UPDATE : 2017.11.16 목 11:07

[Vol. 74] Enlightened Generation

Do youth in Korea enlighten their future and lives? 이대명 기자l승인2015.12.10l수정2015.12.11 01:46

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  Mr. Lim, a 23 year old, who has taken time off from university for 2 years, earns 1.2 million won in a month as a contract worker in a department store. He goes to work at 10:30 and finishes at 7:00 with no work on the weekend. He saves half of his salary and spends 10% of the salary in dating with his girlfriend. He says, “Many people around me told me to find regular work, but I think there is only stress remaining by sacrificing my life to look for jobs.” Similarly, Ms. Park, is 25 years old and graduated from university, earns 800 thousand won a month by doing part time work in design as a home-worker. She says, “I find the job only when I want to work, and I earn the money exactly as much as what I need. I live with doing hobbies.” 
  This is a quite common picture of how current media are depicting younger generations in Korea. It seems that those two people are acting like some sort of extreme realist, having no plan and ambition but just enjoying the present. In fact, this younger generation in Korea has had many names such as, “880 thousand won generation” and “3 things giving up generation” in that they are not caring about dating, marriage and having children. These days, regarding above the example, one more special name is added to them: “Enlightened Generation” which is “Dalkwan Sede” in Korean. Then, the question possibly arising is why today’s youth is being framed with this name, and is it really right for them to be called the “Enlightened Generation?”

- About “Enlightened Generation” -   

  Though you may have heard of the term “3 things or 5 things giving up generation,” you might be so unfamiliar with “Enlightened Generation.” Actually, this term might be considered as the evolutionary version of “giving up generation” series, since the meaning of it is not so far from those of previous series. Regarding the origin of it, this term “Enlightened” is directly translated from the Japanese version of naming youth in Japan, which is “Satori Generation”. “Satori” in Japanese means enlightenment or realization. So, the question is, what have Japanese youth become enlightened to and realized? To simply summarize, since 1980, Japan has plunged into a long-term economic recession and following that, Japan started to get to the era of low-growth without hiring. From birth, these Japanese youth have bitterly and horribly experienced this gloomy reality of Japan which has been caused by the economic collapse. As a consequence of accumulated experiences of economic recession, Japanese youth started to become enlightened in a cynical way that their efforts would not be able to make a change and difference: thus, they would rather choose to be content with the present instead of having long-term hopes for the future.
  Unfortunately, this phenomenon and sad trend of youth in Japan is now believed to be happening to some younger generations in Korea under the name of “Enlightened Generation.” Although Korea has not suffered from a long-term recession like Japan has, it is obvious that the youth unemployment rate has never been higher than now. Besides, many experts keep claiming that we are heading toward the same depressing path as Japan in terms of economy. In this regard, the situation is apparently not so strange for Korean youth to be “enlightened” and make a decision of being content with the present, without planning and dreaming about their future. That is why, not strongly but increasingly, the youth of Korea began to be called by the name of “Enlightened Generation” by the media or the older generation. If we, however, take a little bit closer look at this situation, this phenomenon is not actually happening in most cases in Korea, rather we could easily notice the fact that most Korean youth have not been enlightened to anything.  

  Then, what is actually happening around Korean youth? Like Mr. Lim and Ms. Park in scenarios depicted, just a few of Korean youth actually started to be enlightened, though, the most situations we can encounter as trying to look at Korean youth, it is more about their struggle to survive for the future. For example, they always go to a library or academy even during vacation in order to find a decent job. We can actually see many youth are going to “Noryangjin” to study harder and stricter, or going abroad to develop their capability which will be a strong weapon to get a job later. Also, in the case of students, many of them manage to study and have a part-time job at the same time to support their tuition. All of these even appear to be very unfortunate and pitiful to us, however, these are the reasonable evidence that Korean youth have not yet given up on the future, hoping their lives are getting better. Considering even Mr. Lim above who saves half of his salary every month, it is not so unfair to suppose that he has a plan for the future and is preparing for it. To sum up, most Korean youth are not in the zone of enlightenment at the moment, but under the current and upcoming economic and social circumstances, it does not guarantee that Korean youth are always going to be free from that zone. Indeed, some experts cautiously predict that it is somewhat probable that this enlightenment phenomenon would be coming to Korea sooner or later. Then, it would be valuable for us to see whether we can learn something from the situation of the Japanese youth.     

- Behind the happiness of “Satori Generation” -

  The surprising and interesting thing about such a generation in Japan is that many Japanese youth, who regard themselves as “Satori Generation”, claim that they are happy and satisfied with their present lives. According to the survey by Cabinet Office in Japan, as of 2010, it shows that 70.5% of twenty-somethings have been content with their lives. It is quite nonsense that younger generations could be happy within this unfortunate and insecure structure of society. Maybe, one formula would help us to solve this contradiction. Someone defined happiness as “What you have” / “What you hope”. In terms of “What you have,” Japanese youth have quite good economic circumstances even though they do not have regular jobs, because the minimum wage in Japan is more than sufficient to live. For instance about 50% of part-time workers’ salary is 200~250 thousand yen, which is almost similar to the amount of regular workers’ salary in Japan. Second, in terms of “What you hope”, this factor more importantly influences Japanese youth happiness. Realizing and enlightening in a cynical way of their every effort became in vain, so they started not to see the future and do not think about it anymore. Thus, they do not need feel anxious or worried about their insecure future, rather they make sure to try to be satisfied with today and what they have right now. So, according to that formula, it may appear that Japanese youth could be quite happy and actually believe themselves that they are so.      
  Some Korean youth might be attracted to this feature of “Satori Generation” and indeed some media and people in Korea start to accept this term and concepts in a positive way and somewhat encourage youth in Korea to be “enlightened”. Apparently, the happiness of Japanese youth and their seemingly comfortable lives look and sound very ideal and simply great, however, this happiness of Japanese youth is strongly and increasingly attacked by the questions; “Could it be permanent?” and “Is it true and right happiness?”  From these doubtful points, the meaning of the happiness and satisfaction among “Satori Generation” would be very questionable and even controversial in that these things have been acquired by reducing their hopes, future. In addition, more significantly, since Japanese youth, who are supposed to produce and spend actively, have been in loss of the desire of work and spending: therefore, many experts are worried that it will shrink companies’ production rapidly and this will ultimately lead to a slowdown in Japan’s economic growth more seriously. Then, needless to say, it will also affect negatively “Satori Generation” themselves like a boomerang effect.

- Not criticize and frame but invest into them -
  In the 1980s~1990s, Germany also encountered the similar terrifying situation like Japan in terms of unstable social structure and economy. In order to deal with this recession and revive the economy, Japan put a lot of effort and invested in itself to expand infrastructure facilities such as highways and bridges. On the contrary, supposing the key to this recession was in the hands of youth, Germany invested a lot of money into the youth. This different approach resulted in showing the fact that Germany’s economy steadily grows whereas Japan does not anymore. In Japan, what is worse is that, this inappropriate investment resulted in the nation plunging into deeper recession and caused more breakdown of the economic system, so that younger generations started to be disenchanted and ultimately enlightened about their vague and insecure future. This brought to fruition the time of the emergence of “Satori Generation”. 

  Korea now is strongly believed to be a quite similar situation of economic and social structure crisis as Japan was in the 1980s~1990s. Under this circumstance, though, what the media and the older generation have been mainly doing for youth is to criticize the lack of youth’s passion and stubborn effort. They now even try to frame youth as “Enlightened Generation” and this term may make even the youth who try to do one’s best discouraged. Again, the phenomenon of “Enlightened Generation” could not be generalized into Korean youth and obviously it has not come to most Korean youth yet. Even though some youth could be attracted to the unique feature of it, apparently this type of generation emergence could attack our society and economy as the example of Japan has shown. If Korea does not appropriately handle this situation by not considering about investing into the youth, yet constantly complaining and criticizing them with inappropriate names, there probably will be a time coming when we would be no longer able to deny that Korean youth are an “Enlightened Generation.”


이대명 기자  borawww3@naver.com
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