Friday, September 14, 2007

Electric Dreams

When I arrived in Korea one of the first priorities was to buy some computer equipment and get ourselves plugged back in to the global markets. But somewhat contrary to the high-tech image of itself Korea had projected, we couldn't find any computer stores locally. There were about two billion clothes shops (basically, a partnered man's worst nightmare), a thousand places to eat, a hundred PC Bangs and five hospitals within a mile of our apartment, but anyone selling computers? No. We eventually discovered an unadvertised floor of Etland selling low-end machines with seventeen inch monitors which weren't very inspiring, and ordered on-line from Hacker.

I put it down to not knowing where to look, but the more time went on the more I realised that as a percentage of retail outlets the number of computer stores seems to be as near a statistical zero as makes no difference. In fact, in six months I found two - both small shops - and one of them blurred-by so quickly while I was trapped in the back of a taxi that I doubt I could find it again.

Obviously demonstrating advanced symptoms of geek-withdrawal, a friend took us to a large computer store in Nampodong at the weekend, and this was more of what I had in mind. Machines and peripherals everywhere - so much so that they were evidently winning the ambient temperature battle with the air conditioning units. Like a lot of large Korean stores though, initial impressions can be deceptive; this wasn't one company, but rather a space evidently rented to lots of individual retailers competing for attention. As such, there was a lot of redundancy - people basically selling the same things, although on the plus side I imagine it must make the price competition quite keen. Usefully, a couple of units seemed to be doing repairs - fairly serious repairs judging by the amount of circuit boards and wires lying around.

But while there certainly was a lot of hardware, the software side of the equation was missing - no applications, no games, nothing. Maybe Koreans buy software on-line, maybe in stores I've yet to find, or maybe they don't tend to buy it at all; in a society where counterfeit bags and DVDs are sold openly on the streets of the main shopping areas it's not hard to imagine that software must suffer a similar fate.

Like a lot of leisure and retail places in Korea, this store is easy to miss from the street - there's nothing in the ground floor windows because it's actually on the floor above, and the sign reminds me of a bank's, so when I think that there just aren't these kind of places around it may just be the case that I'm not spotting them.


Korean tags: 가게, 컴퓨터

1 comment:

James Turnbull said...

As for software, I noticed the same thing way back in Jinju in 2000. Even back then, most of it was bought online. We did have precisely ONE software store in that city of 350,000 people, but it mostly sold playstation games.

I do like feeling and seeing physically virtually everything I buy, but except for clothes, I've given in to the internet's ease. I haven't physically bought my groceries in 2 years for instance, and as of last week get bagels delivered to my door a couple of times a week. On the one hand it's amazing how techno and 21st Century all that is, but on the other it's amazing how quickly one gets used to it.

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