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KakaoTalk and Facebook

Korean American Youth Constructing Hybrid Identities


Jiwoo Park and Dafna Lemish

KakaoTalk and Facebook: Korean American Youth Constructing Hybrid Identities explores the role smartphones play in the lives of Korean American youth as they explore their identities and navigate between fitting into their host society and their Korean heritage. Employing multiple methodologies, this book gives voice to the youth’s personal experiences, identity struggles, and creative digital media practices. While similar in many aspects to other American youth, they also differ greatly in the central roles that their smartphones’ use plays in maintaining their mastery of the Korean language, connecting to Korean pop culture, and cultivating their social networks with other co-ethnic peers and homeland relatives and friends. The results of this study challenge traditional assumptions about assimilation of second generation immigrants into a host society and suggest that digital technologies facilitate the process of segmented assimilation, according to which ethnic identities continue to play a central role in the identity of children of immigrants. KakaoTalk and Facebook will be of great interest to scholars and educators of media and youth and those exploring how digital media have changed the nature of immigration processes in dramatic ways.

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It was late in the afternoon, and Yoo Jin and Mi Young, two Korean American female teenagers, were chatting away in the food court at the mall, digging into a big bowl of potbingsoo (a traditional Korean dessert) while looking at their smartphones. Chan Soo, a Korean American male teenager, joined in, taking a sip of his soda as he sat down. He noted their smartphones on the table and said in Korean: “Who are you chatting with?” Yoo Jin answered, “We’re having a group conversation about B.T.S.” [an extremely popular South Korean K-pop boy band that won the Top Social Artist award at the 2017 and 2018 Billboard Music Awards] Chan Soo replied, “Yeah, and did you see their speech at the U.N. on YouTube? They made history—the first ever K-pop band to speak at the U.N.! Everyone online was talking about them and what they said” Mi Young commented, “Me, too, I am blown away by them. They made me so proud!”

While writing this book manuscript, the first author overheard this conversation while sitting next to the group of Korean American teenagers in the local food court at the mall. As this example indicates, one of the distinguishing features among Korean American youths in the digital age is their widespread use of smartphone-based KakaoTalk (a Korean mobile instant messaging application) communication and the powerful connectivity it fosters. With their smartphones in hand, they frequently check for KakaoTalk messages and share updates about...

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