[Outlook] The rise of the night owls

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[Outlook] The rise of the night owls

Let’s talk about birds. Are early birds the only ones that are productive? They definitely have an advantage when it comes to competing for food against other birds that are active during the day. However, there are countless other birds that are active at night, such as owls and cuckoos.

Just as these birds are more productive at night, some people get a lot done while everyone else is tucked in their beds.

As Korea quickly went from being an agricultural society to an industrialized one, being an early bird was an important virtue for older generations. But now we are living in an era of information technology. Those who stay up and have fun until the wee hours of the morning are often creative and productive, engaged in industries that add great value to the economy and the culture. Writers, game developers, cartoonists and music writers belong to this group.

Take, for example, a young boy who is addicted to computer games, worrying his parents sick. When he grows up, he could well become a game developer and exporter, adding to the national wealth. These days, digital content produced by people who use their imagination and have fun while working are becoming a major driving force for our country’s productivity.

From 2002 to 2005, Korea’s gross domestic product increased 4.5 percent. Its storytelling industry, where night owls are the main workforce, grew 9.8 percent during the same span. In that time period in China, gross domestic product went up 8.9 percent, while its storytelling industry expanded 26.5 percent. Hobbies that used to be regarded as wasteful are now leading growth engines.

In advanced countries, the development and expansion of the storytelling and service sectors have paved the way for advanced industrial systems.

We used to say, “Let’s march toward the future,” but nowadays that slogan sounds old fashioned. The future is upon us, and may just pass us by before we know it.

Those in their 20s and 30s were born and have been raised in a diverse world that can’t be measured with standardized norms. Of course, some young people are early birds, but many are night owls.

As the older generations are accustomed to the idea that working hard is a virtue and having fun is a vice, they find the younger generation’s behavior quite unpleasant. When going to restaurants or cafes young people sit in the middle, while the older generations prefer corners or private rooms behind closed doors.

Members of the young generation want to express themselves. They are confident and they don’t try to hide their emotions. As they want to have fun while working, they prioritize a sense of self-accomplishment over salary when choosing jobs.

Since the new generation prefers diversity, conventional cinemas had to shut down and multiplexes opened. Diversity in all sectors, such as politics, economy and culture, is closely related to the development of the new generation.

The older generations didn’t know how to have fun. But demand for an exciting and happy life is now exploding, transforming the culture. Conventional manufacturers have to create stories for their brands. Sports have become part of economy. The world we’re living in is hard to explain with classical economic theories of labor, capital and land.

The candlelight rallies are being attended by all generations, but youths in their 20s and 30s are at the center. The administration, which consists of the older generation, only wants to achieve a national per-capita income of $40,000, without any other economic values, a typical mindset of early birds.

Thus, they are having difficulties in communicating with the new generation, the night owls, with candles in their hands. The health concerns may be minor but they mean a lot to this new generation. But the administration regards those who stage rallies as pro-North Korean forces or people dissatisfied with the economy, and continues prioritizing old-style policies, such as civil engineering projects, over issues about mentality and ethics.

It is wrong to believe that an early-bird type of rule is absolutely good and right. The administration can find a solution to problems if it admits that there are countless night owls who find their nourishment while others are asleep. The president must find ways to communicate with this new generation. Night owls are birds too.

*The writer is a representative of the Meerae Imagination Institute. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Hong Sa-jong
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