HAVE YOU ever craved your favorite dish at a fancy restaurant while alone at home? Or, have you ever wanted to go to a karaoke, just by yourself, and sing out loud with no one else around? Have you ever wished to visit an exhibition or simply go to the movies but had no one else to go with? You might have considered doing all of these activities by yourself, but you were probably concerned about the gaze of the public when you wanted to enjoy yourself at places packed with couples. Or perhaps, you might just think it is weird to go to a karaoke late at night with no company. Why not think outside the box and spend some time alone with lounging?
What do you mean, “alone with lounging”?
Alone with lounging or *na-holo lounging* was first introduced as one of the hottest keywords representing the year 2013, in the book *Trend Korea 2013* written by Prof. Kim Nan-do (Dept. of Human Ecology, Seoul National Univ.). To lounge means “to pass time idly” or “move or act in a light, relaxed way” usually at a public waiting room in a hotel or an airport terminal. According to Kim, however, the modern boom of the single-market in Korea brought about the new definition of “lounging” alone, which in turn led to the new term alone with lounging. Alone with lounging is the act of relaxing and enjoying leisure time by yourself without worrying about how others will look at you. Of course, the fact that one enjoys alone with lounging does not make one an outsider or someone that lacks sociability. Instead, when someone is “alone with lounging”, it means that he prioritizes the time he spends with himself as much as the time he spends with others.
When asked “If you had an entire day just on your own, what would you do?” a large number of bloggers responded actively, as if they were waiting for someone to ask them a similar question. Their responses were diverse; some simply mentioned activities such as hiking, riding a bike or going to the movies, while others used their imagination by claiming “I would rent a hotel room by myself, roll around watching TV, order some wine and dance along to my favorite music all night long” or “I would go to the beach just by myself, drink a lot, and try to get back to my senses without help”. This is an example showing how eager today’s individuals are to spend some time on their own.
In Korea, especially after this new cultural term was introduced, there was a sudden increase of companies and consumers interested in “alone with lounging”, resulting in a boost to the solo-economy. This means more and more services that target and facilitate “alone with lounging” were created, such as single-dining restaurants, single-room karaoke, private hair salons and spas, and cafes for single consumers. In fact, the term “single-sumer” was also created, which shows the increasing number of consumers of services and products for one-person use.
The number of furniture and household devices designed for single users, for instance, skyrocketed recently, from 15.5% of the total furniture industry in 2000, to 25.3% in 2012. Moreover, according to recent statistics on ticket purchases through Interpark, one of the most popular Korean ticket-selling companies, the percentage of ticket sales for single seats in 2005 was 11.6%, while in 2012 the numbers went up to 23.9%. This means that the number of Koreans seeking individual leisure activities has increased to 1 out of 4. The number of travel packages for individuals also rose dramatically and the number of customers interested in experiencing “alone with lounging” through traveling increase day by day.
The merits of alone with lounging
The “alone with lounging” phenomenon also got immediate attention from the media. The cast members of TV programs such as “Discovery of Trends” and “Man’s Qualification”, for instance, experienced alone with lounging by becoming single-sumers themselves. Although some of the members had negative views on alone with lounging at first, they started getting used to and were even attracted to the benefits of having fun alone throughout the show. After going to a one-person café, member Lee Yoon-seok claimed that he finally realized the difference of simply being alone and actually experiencing “alone with lounging”. When at home, he says, “I become lazy and unproductive, but when I am doing activities related to alone with lounging, I feel more alert and start enjoying the rare yet valuable time with myself”.
Lee’s words hit the core of alone with lounging’s biggest advantage. As explained by Prof. Kim, “alone with lounging is the practice of individuals in search of their own identity through leisure, rest and entertainment”. Thus, “alone with lounging” offers individuals the opportunity to take a break from their hectic, stressful daily routine and spend that little time to focus exclusively on the activities they personally find entertaining. They do not need to take time to find a partner with the same interests or someone with a similar schedule. Instead, people can spend time reading, singing, watching movies, receiving beauty care, or even meditating on their own. This might help them restore their lost energy and motivation, get ready for a fresh start, and appreciate their lives even more. Through alone with lounging, they become the protagonists of their own schedules and can give all the care, love and attention directly to themselves.
Choi Jun-mo, (Soph., Dept. of Dentistry) who occasionally enjoys alone with lounging, describes this cultural phenomenon as “an opportunity to appreciate everything in more depth”. “Usually, when you are with others”, he says, “you need to separate your attention. When you go to an exhibition, for example, you feel the obligation to ask your partner what they think and share your impressions with each other. Moreover, as you have to move with the crowd, you don’t get to allocate enough time to the works of your choice and appreciate them in depth, with no distractions.” According to Choi, another case where alone with lounging is preferable, is eating. “Personally, I like to take my time when eating. Yet when I eat with others, I feel constantly obliged to keep the conversation going, eat my food and adjust to the others’ eating pace. When you choose alone with lounging, however, you have absolute control over what you do, and you can do whatever you want, however you want, and whenever you want” he says. The biggest merit of alone with lounging, however, according to Choi, is the opportunity to think about yourself. “When you are alone, you can take time to meditate and talk to yourself honestly. Of course, you can discuss and share valuable thoughts when you are with others, but you can only make that information yours when you are alone and connect it to your own values and experiences. After all, your perspective is all you have” he says.
But why the sudden need to lounge alone?
But why did this need for alone with lounging increase within the past few years? Korean society has been traditionally characterized by its collectivity and strong family relationships. However, according to Kim Young-hoon (Prof., Dept. of Psychology, Yonsei Univ,), although the basic, foundational structures remain, this tradition of collectivity is now starting to collapse little by little. The main reasons, he explains, are simple, yet critical: individuation and the rise of social media. In *Trend Korea 2013*, Kim also defines alone with lounging as “a result of individuals striving to find their identities through rest, leisure and entertainment, the recent openness of Korean society towards individuation, and the advance of digital networks in the 21st century.” As Korean society starts to welcome individuation, more and more individuals are starting to search for ways to escape from collective activities. “Family reunions, outings with co-workers, community activities, group sports and friends all require too much time and devotion from our busy lives” Kim says. “People are starting to get tired, or even exhausted by all these commitments, and eventually refuse to participate in them by force”. This exhaustion, according to Kim Nan-do, has led to a time when rest is needed for all. Students get exhausted due to school, extracurricular activities, and homework, while adults are getting stressed because of work and family responsibilities. This is the main reason why everyone is in search of their “own lounge” lately.
In the same manner, the rise of goose families and single families (adults living alone and individuals who give up on marriage), along with the sudden Social Networking Service (SNS) boom, has created the notion of being alone, together. The number of activities people can do individually has dramatically increased, while they can always meet others and be alone, together through the digital world. Most often, they “keep the switch [of SNS] on” to interact indirectly with others while at their personal lounge, says Kim, but their main desire is to spend time with and get to know more about their own selves. Today’s individuals often feel the need to be detached from their surroundings, and SNS remains as the only means they leave open for communication with the outside world.
Today’s Koreans bowling alone?
Kim Yong-hak (Prof., Dept. of Social Sciences, Yonsei Univ.) claims that the “alone with lounging” phenomenon in Korea is a déjà vu of the so-called “bowling alone” syndrome. Bowling alone was introduced by an American scholar, Robert Putnam, in the late 1990s, to illustrate the decline of membership of American citizens in social, collective organizations. Putnam found that although the number of people who bowl has increased, the number of those who bowl in leagues has decreased proportionally. This shows the sudden increase in the population who prefer to bowl alone without choosing to participate in a league with other bowlers. Putnam blamed the sudden boom of TV and Internet related technologies, or, “technological individualizing” of Americans’ leisure time for this “bowling alone” phenomenon, just like Korean scholars today are blaming individuation and the rise of social media for the new trend of “alone with lounging”. While Putnam’s example was a sign of America’s technological individuation, says Kim, alone with lounging might be a warning for Korea that it is coming closer to individuation.
Yet what makes 21st century Korea different from Putnam’s 20th century U.S. is that Korean citizens are starting to accept the social phenomenon of alone with lounging more naturally. “In the past, Korean society used to be highly conservative” says Choi. “Perhaps the sudden modernization of Korea from conservative to a more open society made it harder for Koreans to accept differences at first.” Just a few years back, Korean society used to view those who eat alone at restaurants, go to spas and karaoke by themselves or simply enjoy some alone time negatively, by labeling them as outsiders or people who lack sociability. Even those who enjoyed alone with lounging used to be concerned with the criticisms of others or how society perceives each of their actions. According to Choi, this was a typical example of low self-esteem. “One of the most uncomfortable activities to do alone in Korea is going to a buffet or a fancy restaurant by yourself. People stare at you and you can tell they are wondering why you are alone. But if you are entertained and satisfied with what you are doing, why should you worry about what others think? Just enjoy your time alone doing what fulfills your desires.” Then people will start to realize that those who enjoy alone with lounging are, in fact, normal individuals who enjoy interacting with others just as much they like spending some time alone with lounging; they simply value the little time they have on their own, and spend it wisely to satisfy their personal desires.
According to Kim Young-hoon, Koreans are now starting to sympathize with each other, as they have all experienced the awkwardness, intimidation, uncertainties, and possible pains caused by forced collectivity. Kim Yong-hak also believes that “Koreans have learned to respect the freedom and autonomy of each individual. What one does in his personal time is his own privacy, and someone else trying to intervene by any means should not be considered appropriate”. Criticisms and staring and making someone feel embarrassed for his choice to lounge alone are now violations of one’s privacy. Countries such as Japan have had a similar mindset for quite a long time, says Kim, and it is the reason why everyone eats alone during lunch breaks in Japan. “I was surprised to find out that they are cautious to ask their co-worker to eat together, because the other person might find it rude,” he claims.
Of course, the situation in Korea differs in that people who enjoy alone with lounging are not afraid to ask others to do an activity together. It is simply an escape from the hectic city lives they choose to have from time to time. As Kim said, the traditional collectivity of Korean society still rules among the activities of Korean citizens. “Alone with lounging” simply remains as an option they might prefer once in a while.
* * *
Marilyn Monroe once said “I restore myself when I’m alone.” Likewise, the new cultural trend of alone with lounging is an opportunity for individuals to take a break from their daily routines and “restore themselves” by spending some time in solitude. After all, in the words of Alice Koller, “being solitary is being alone well; being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your own presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement.”
<Places where you can enjoy “alone with lounging”>
- One-person café: One-person cafés were created even in the streets of Myeongdong, with seats designed especially for single customers to relax and enjoy their time alone with lounging without distractions.
- Single room karaoke: According to a customer at Hongdae’s single-room karaoke, it is perfect for those who always think “I wish I had the mike all by myself” when they go to karaoke with larger groups. The majority of the customers, according to the manager of the karaoke, are in their early teenage years to their late 20s. At night, he says, many office workers also visit the place after work. One of the single-room karaoke’s biggest advantages is its headset system through which the customers can record their songs and send them directly to their e-mail.
- Private hair salon: Private hair salons contain only one mirror and only one lounge chair, “so that the customer feels like a queen or a prince who gets all the attention and care” says Park, the owner of a private hair salon.
- Single dining restaurant: Many would agree that eating alone makes them embarrassed, let alone eating Korean barbeque or *shabu shabu* all by themselves. Single dining restaurants, however, have special seats, which are usually separated from each other by a wall, like at a study room. For example Ichimen, a ramen place in Sinchon, is one of the most popular single dining restaurants with around 200 customers per day, says Lee Hyun-seung (Manager, Ichimen). It is designed for single-sumers exclusively, and everything including ordering is done by the customers themselves through a coupon machine. “The customers can enjoy their meal at their own private space, without feeling distracted by their surroundings” says Lee.
- Private spa: While customers usually go to spas with a group of friends, now they don’t have to be concerned of what other people think, or perhaps, spend their time trying to find someone to join along. Additionally, private spas offer individual rooms for each user, so that they can enjoy spa services with no one else around.