PEOPLE ARE deeply running out of breath these days. The world is increasingly becoming more competitive, brutal and hectic. So, where exactly do people go to find refuge? When do they have the time to enjoy their lives or to express their creativity, and, take a step back to breathe a little? Not to worry, because snack culture is ready for those who do not have time for a full-course meal but are eager to make up for it with a delectable snack. The world of snack culture offers a legion of entertainment, information, and culture; all compacted and designed to be revealed in just a few minutes. People are demanding shorter and faster ways to consume cultural contents such as art, reading, videos, and fashion. Eventually, this has developed into a world-wide trend, a culture that we all are a part of: snack culture.
How snack culture became the norm
The term snack culture was coined by WIRED magazine in 2007 to depict the modern tendency to search for convenient culture that can be indulged within a short duration of leisure time. In fact, the cultural contents of snack culture can be relished like a light snack. There are many factors that explain the contemporary development of snack culture. The current generation is constantly pressed for time and is crushed under the pressure of societal demands, forcing them to search for brief and efficient ways of entertainment and leisure. Furthermore, experts from Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade (KIET) attribute the development of snack culture to the proliferation of smart devices that offer a multitudinous array of short and quick cultural contents. In 2014, approximately 78.5% of the South Korean population over the age of 6 was using a smart phone. With the popularization of smart phones, cultural contents are at our fingertips. This has eventually evolved into a worldwide tendency to search for brevity and convenience, and has been spreading its influence to all dimensions of the contemporary lifestyle including but not limited to Internet Technology (IT), fashion, leisure, food, and even education.
More and more people are joining this worldwide fad, because snack contents guarantee convenience and entertainment in a short period of time. Prior to the rise of the snack culture, most cultural contents could only be indulged through time-consuming activities, such as going to an art fair, reading a book, or watching a movie. However, with snack culture, all cultural experiences can be enjoyed in a relatively short amount of time and with little space constraint. For example, a new trend gaining popularity in South Korea is day-camping, which is a leisure activity that only lasts for the duration of a day. Designed for those who lack time to go on prolonged vacation trips, day-camping offers the satisfaction and entertainment by condensing the pleasurable elements of a camping trip within a day. Furthermore, mobile contents supply videos, art pieces and novels that can be indulged within 10 to 15 minutes during the users’ spare time.
How snack culture shapes the world
With snack culture snowballing into one great social avalanche, people are searching for ` easier and faster ways to engage in culture. Naturally, all aspects of life are being condensed into a short and light snack form. One example would be the fashion industry. Consumers are becoming increasingly eager to quickly consume culture and adapt to the constantly fluctuating trends. As a result of this change in consumer habits, Specialty Store Retailer of Private Label Apparel (SPA) brands are flourishing. SPA brands handle the production, design, planning, and distribution autonomously, which curtail the price and production time of apparel. This characteristic has labelled SPA brands as fast fashion and has helped them to be more adaptable to the fluctuating fashion trends. According to Korea Creative Content Agency, the SPA brands in South Korea have shown an economic growth rate of approximately 30% from 2012 to 2014, while that of the overall fashion industry itself was only 5%. This massive growth also continued in 2014, when it was estimated that the profit of SPA brands have increased 17% compared to the previous year. The increasing popularity of SPA brands exhibits the current tendency to be attracted to speed and convenience, which are the main attributes of snack culture.
The way people engross in culture has also been greatly compensated due to the upsurge of snack culture. Snack culture is prompting people to search for a more efficient and effortless way to read, watch, and experience culture. As a result, many cultural contents are being moved to online or the mobile platform for accessibility and convenience. This is demonstrated by the increasingly popular webtoons, web dramas, and web novels among South Koreans. Webtoons are short online cartoons with new episodes published every week. While previous former comics could only be read by going through a long series of books, webtoons provide a much easier method to leaf through the dynamic illustrations and creative plots on portable digital devices. The South Korean market for webtoons started in 2003 through personal blogs until it caught the eye of major South Korean portal websites, which eventually became the main distributors of web toons. These portal websites have seen major success as Naver, Daum, and Lezhin Comics have earned an overall profit of \150 billion purely by webtoons in 2013. The popularity of web cartoons is further demonstrated by the stupendous number of visitors of Naver webtoons, which has reached up to 17 million, and by the soaring number of page views that is estimated to be around 150.5 million views. Webtoons are now becoming a mainstream in the nation with one out of three South Koreans estimated to read webtoons.
Snack culture is also affecting show business by shifting the main focus from the television set to the mobile screen through web drama. Television shows in the past ranged up to an hour and could only be watched at a specific given time. However, one episode of a Web drama runs for 10 to 15 minutes and is designed to be savored at one’s spare time. Web dramas started off as a promotional video for Kyobo Life Insurance in 2013, but as it caught on with the viewers, the number of web dramas tripled in just one year. Even major entertainment businesses like KBS and Sidus HQ have invested in the creation of web dramas, which are low in risk, yet, high in profit. Web dramas require minimal production fees as they are short in length, but are extremely lucrative due to the high demand in the South Korean market. Snack culture also shows international mobility as demonstrated by the export of web drama series called the “Aftereffect” (2014) to Japan, China, and the United States. It currently has 600 million views in the Chinese Peer-to-Peer streaming Television (PPTV) website.
But what can excessive indulgence lead to?
However, this social trend cannot escape the face of criticism and should not be followed blindly. The short contents of snack culture can create public’s aversion to in-depth material. Short digital contents usually rely on provocative and stimulating effects, which can hinder the viewers from comprehending the true essence of the content. Kwon Byung-woong (Prof., Business of Art, Chungang Univ.) stated in Joongang ilbo that “snack culture is a sensuous culture that focuses on stimulating the senses. With short but stimulating contents only so much depth can be expressed. The problem with snack culture is that most of the information are in summarized forms and are scattered online so proper comprehension of knowledge seems improbable.” For example, in a popular podcast called “Wide but shallow knowledge”, experts from various fields are called in to share their insight on society, politics, history, economy, and humanities. This has prompted many people to take interest on such topics and narrowed the partition between the academic world and the public. However, the side effect is that only a condensed and shallow aspect of a subject is provided, and the process required for comprehensive understanding is excluded. Creativity and expertise can only be pursued through a complete understanding of the subject, but the brief and shallow facts that are dispersed online makes it difficult to achieve such a feat.
In addition, the snack culture can result in investments that heavily lean on short, superficial contents because they are low in risk and high in demand. This can eventually submerge other cultural media such as art, news media, publication and other various entertainment industries. As a result, the substance and depth of these areas will deteriorate. This inequitable share of investments is already inflicting damages on the publication industry. Some corporations are reluctant to invest in books that are published for education purposes because popular web novels serve as a more profitable alternative. On a similar note, the entertainment business is also currently focusing on displaying a wide selection of short-lived celebrities rather than nourishing true talents of the entertainers. The average career life of K-pop idol group singers is known to last approximately five years. Eventually, this imbalance of investments and focus on short cultural contents lead to the stagnation of cultural development, a phenomenon to be wary of.
Since snack culture highly relies on popularity, creators of cultural contents heavily depend on the ardent response of the consumers rather than the authentic creativity of the producer. With the high accessibility of snack culture, anybody can be the creator of cultural contents with little or not barrier to enter the market. One can easily become a writer by posting web novels online, an artist by creating an aesthetic picture through Instagram, or even a director by creating few-minute video clips through Vine. Even though this characteristic holds the benefit of providing new opportunities to the mass to produce cultural contents, many of these contents lack creativity because snack culture is preoccupied with seeking approval from the mass on its content. For example, recently many romance web novels faced criticism for its repeated use of the cliché romantic story lines and lack of originality, as such romantic endeavors are deemed as the most popular among the public. , Countless content creators are blindly following trends due to their obsession with public acclamation.
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We are the makers of culture. Our casual likes, brief fads, and trending issues all accrue to one big cultural phenomenon. In this case, our tendency to search for short but sweet cultural experiences has grown into a worldwide phenomenon known as the snack culture. As the creators of culture, we should take more responsibility on how culture affects our society. Let us be cautious so that snack culture continues to be a source of entertainment and satisfaction but does not become an unmitigated alternative to actual substantial culture