The Untact Society
Sorry I’ve been quiet today. I’m sick as a dog. It might be omicron — I’m still waiting on the test results — or it might be an epic case of bronchitis. I’ve been in bed all day, my throat is raw, and I barely have a voice. I’m fairly crushed because I was supposed to go to Wichita tomorrow for the Eighth Day Institute conference, which is always a terrific time. I’m hoping that my Covid results come back in time, but they told me they’re delayed by volume. Anyway, if this is the flu or bronchitis, I can’t really travel, nor can I give a speech without a voice.
A reader sent me this story last month, and it’s been sitting on my desktop in an open tab all this time. It’s really freaky and dystopian (and you well know that this blog is where you turn for freaky, dystopian things). South Korea, whose fertility rate is in collapse, is preparing for a world with many fewer people. Read on:
Introduced in 2020, “Untact” is a South Korean government policy that aims to spur economic growth by removing layers of human interaction from society. It gathered pace during the pandemic and is expanding rapidly across sectors from healthcare, to business and entertainment.
The push to create contactless services is designed increase productivity and cut bureaucracy but has also fuelled concerns over the potential social consequences.
Choi Jong-ryul, a sociology professor at Keimyung University, says while there are advantages to developing an untact society, it also threatens social solidarity and may end up isolating individuals.
“If more people lose the ‘feeling of contact’ due to lack of face-to-face interaction, society will encounter a fundamental crisis,” Choi says.
What does an untact society look like in practice? More:
In everyday life, small changes brought about by untact are becoming increasingly noticeable.
Robots brew coffee and bring beverages to tables in cafes. A robotic arm batters fries and chicken to perfection. At Yongin Severance Hospital, Keemi – a 5G-powered disinfection robot – sprays hand sanitiser, checks body temperature, polices social distancing, and even tells people off for not wearing masks.
Unmanned or hybrid shops are flourishing. Mobile carrier LG Uplus recently opened several untact phone shops, where customers can compare models, sign contracts and receive the latest smartphones without ever having to deal with a real person.
Civil services too are getting untact facelifts. Seoul City plans to build a “metaverse” – a virtual space where users can interact with digital representations of people and objects – and avatars of public officials will resolve complaints. Several local governments have launched AI call bots to monitor the health of those self-isolating. For Covid-19 patients receiving home treatment, a government app also monitors health and gives video access to a doctor.
The world of K-pop has also stepped into the metaverse. Fans create avatars where they can “meet” their favourites like Blackpink in a virtual space and receive virtual autographs.
Read it all. Remember that this nightmare is being tried in the name of economic growth, the planners say. Maybe it makes me a middle-aged horse’s ass (well, more of one), but I try to avoid self-serve check-outs whenever I can. I hate them. It’s a matter of principle with me. I like interacting with a human being, and besides, whenever I use on of the automated kiosks, I feel that the damn thing is taking someone’s job away.
It could be that South Korea has no choice but to embrace technology like this. It has the world’s lowest fertility rate. There won’t be people around to do many of those jobs in the future.
What I don’t get is why this doesn’t alarm people. Do you want to live in the Untact world? It’s a dystopia of cold, sleek loneliness. We are going to forget how to be human. Our devices are already training us in this path. I have been working at home for a decade now, and I have observed in myself a growing reticence to throw myself into social situations. The Guardian story talks about one benefit of the Untact society is that it spares people the “emotional labor” of having to talk to another person. But this is a basic part of being a human being! I don’t like how isolated and isolating technology has made me; it has exacerbated my latent anti-social tendencies.
This short clip explaining Untact notes that Covid has shown us what a socially distanced world is. Okay, but why on earth would you want to live like that if you didn’t have to?! I don’t get it.
What do you think about Untact? Do you think it represents a sensible acceptance of a future with far fewer people in it, or do you think it represents surrender in the (so far) losing battle to get South Koreans to have babies?
Our technology is un-humaning us. Digitized pornography is ubiquitous, and is destroying the ability of our young, especially young men, to mate. Most parents are aware to some degree that it’s dangerous to get their kid a smartphone, which for boys is a gateway to hardcore porn, and for girls is a gateway to Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria — but they still buy the devices, somehow thinking that it won’t happen to their kid. We as a species are unlearning what it is to be male and female, mothers and fathers, creators of families. It’s diabolical.