The World's Most High-Tech Nation

By JOOHEE CHO, Digital Reporter, ABC News Seoul

If there ever is an  "Easy Tech Adaptation for Dummies"  book, I’d be the first one to grab it. Living in the most wired country in the world is quite a struggle for people with technology phobia like me. I’m not talking new gadgets or software that are released every few months or years. I’m talking almost every day learning how to use new functions on my mobile phone or keeping up to date with new ways to communicate.

Today, I joined the tech-savvy generation’s new thing: T-mobile money, only to find myself all frustrated because the whole concept is too good to be true    and way too complex. It is a prepaid smart card that is embedded into your mobile’s SIM card, which works as a wallet, navigator or personalized weather forecaster. It even tells you how crowded -- not  with  car traffic but  with human traffic -- certain places are so that you can avoid holiday shopping at those spots!

My new quest started when I encountered the Salvation Army last week. Next to the traditional red kettle with bell-ringing Santa-costumed volunteers, Korean Salvation Army showcased the new "digital donation screens" for which you simply flash your mobile phone onto a screen. It remotely deducts 80 cents from your T-money,  so no more excuses for having no change in the pocket to spare for the poor. As I stood there watching, the generation gap was clear. The older ones dropped cash into the kettle; the younger ones proudly walked up and flashed their mobile phones. I certainly did not want to place myself in the former category.

Then I realized having ignored all those aggressive advertisements everywhere in the city on T-money, T-life, T-story, T-service, T-whatever...that, with a mobile phone market penetration rate of 93.6 percent as of last month, the big T was surely embedded into every aspect of Koreans’ daily lives.

As I get in the elevator every morning  to  work, three things I habitually double check in the bag are my two mobile phones – one for private use and the other for work – and my BlackBerry used only for internal ABC News e-mail. And now with the T-mobile money installed, those are all I need to get through the day.

For taxis, tolls, parking fees, theater  tickets, and even a cup of tea at convenient stores, I simply flash my mobile phone onto the T-money counter.

Searching for a restaurant, SK Communications’ portal service Nate lists five popular Italian bistros within a certain range of a designated neighborhood, complete with reviews and sometimes menus on my mobile screen.

T-service then turns into a navigator. You can even specify whether you’re driving, taking the subway or walking. It will navigate you accordingly, avoiding crowded routes.

To pay bills or transfer funds, I also use the mobile service that directly links into my Shinhan Bank system. The tiny screen shows the status of  the  foreign exchange rate that has been so volatile since the financial crisis. At the click of a button on my phone, I can sell dollars right when the Korean won seems to be at the bottom.

Same goes with trading stocks on the mobile phone. One of my golfing buddies does that out in the field while checking distance to the pin, also calculated by his mobile golf service.

At a hospital waiting room the other day, I met a girl in her teen’s intently watching a music video of the latest hit song "Nobody" on her phone, over and over again. She was memorizing the moves, but it was too difficult. She grumbled, then downloaded a how-to choreography video program in less than 30 seconds.

Personally, I find  the best use of my mobile is as a portable TV. I can watch all the terrestrial networks on the 2x1.6-inch screen with clear digital quality, anywhere in the city and even on the highways.

Soon to debut on the market early next year is the new digital vending machine that lets you can download a two-hour movie or an episode of "Desperate Housewives" in 10 seconds on the mobile phone.

All this is possible because Korea is considered a world leader in 3G mobile technology. At 95 percent, its broadband penetration in homes, including wireless broadband, is the world’s highest. Japan and Finland follow the lead, and at 57 percent, the United States ranks 15th. 

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