Smartphone Use in Korea is Getting Out of Hand and Hurting Koreans

Smartphone use is increasing everywhere in the world. However, smartphone use in Korea is increasing at an alarming rate. South Korea ranks at the top for smartphone ownership at 96%. The other 4% still have a mobile phone, just not a smartphone. Therefore in South Korea, smartphone or mobile phone ownership is at 100%. Compare this to the United States, where smartphone ownership is at around 80%. In addition, more and more schoolchildren in Korea are becoming addicted to their smartphones. More than 99% of all South Korean teens used a smartphone in 2022 according to the South Korean Ministry of Science and ICT.

A survey conducted by the Gender Ministry says that 1.3 million students enrolled in the 4th grade and the first years of middle and high school found that 25% (1 in 4) are heavily dependent on the internet and their smartphones. In addition, about 50% of South Korean children aged 10-19 were considered overdependent on smartphones in 2022. Furthermore, studies have shown that female Korean students are at greater risk due to the rise of social media apps like Instagram and Snow. 

The Smartphone Market in South Korea

The smartphone market in South Korea is dominated by Samsung. In fact, a little under 75% of all smartphones in South Korea are made by Samsung with the other 20% being made by Apple and LG. The sales of Samsung Smartphones in Korea have been growing 50% year over year and have hit an all-time high after the release of the Galaxy 21 back in 2021. This goes to show that the smartphone market is not slowing down. The age of the first smartphone user in Korea continues to be younger and younger. Now in Korea, it is vital to not only have a smartphone but also a Samsung phone. This is because there is a huge benefit to having a Samsung smartphone that can be easily integrated into online shopping and payments.

Smartphone Use in Korea

Smartphone on Subway

If you have ever traveled on the Seoul subway you will see a vast majority on their smartphones. The average Korean goes to sleep looking at their smartphone in bed. They wake up to check their smartphone and head to their office where they will look at a computer screen for over 10 hours a day. When they get off work they might go home and watch their favorite Korean drama or movie on their computer or on their smartphone. The average Korean adult spends an average of over 9 hours a day staring at digital screens. Is this healthy?  

What Harm is it Causing?

Humans were not meant to stare at electronic screens all day. Therefore the biggest harm comes to our eyes. It is no wonder why Lasik surgery in Korea has increased every year since 2010. However, most Korean adults didn’t start using smartphones until they were out of college. Compare that to Korean kids having access to smartphones as early as the age of three. What long-term damage is this doing to children in Korea? Early tests show that children in Korea who spend an average of 3 hours a day on smartphones and tablets score lower on language tests. However, since the data is so limited, scientists will not have a full answer until many of these children grow up. It might take a decade to see the real effects of smartphone use.

Korean EdTech Startups Using Smartphones and Tablets to Educate Children

SmartStudy PinkFong

Smartphone and tablet use will only go up as technology advances. Many Korean Edtech startups focus solely on education through mobile apps or computers. One Korean EdTech startup SmartStudy developed a brand called “PinkFong” which became a global hit thanks to their baby shark series. SmartStudy creates educational entertainment content for young children on Youtube. Now the startup is a multimillion-dollar content developer and now wants to create animated television shows, musicals, and even feature films.

SmartStudy was able to capture the Korean market through the emergence of smartphones in Korea. As more and more companies look to use smartphones and computers to educate children, it is important to quickly find out the impact the use of smartphones in Korea is having on our brains and bodies. It is estimated that the time children spend on gaming alone is around 50 minutes per day for children over 6 years old.

Smartphone Addiction Treatment Camps

Smartphone in Korea

South Korea opened smartphone and gaming addiction treatment camps in 2019. These were two-week and four-week internet detox camps that were organized by the South Korean government. So far, there have been 20 of these camps which brought in over 500 children from around Korea. Parents were charged only $84 for the 2-week camp. Most of the money went to providing the children with food during those 2 weeks.

The camp offered a wide range of activities including outdoor/indoor sports and arts/craft lessons. All forms of smartphones and the internet were banned at the camp. An essential part of the program is building social connections. As more and more children use digital media from an early age their offline social bonds become weaker. Therefore a lot of the programs at these camps focus on helping children socialize and develop friendships.

In addition, the families and the children were required to attend counseling sessions. This part is crucial as the real challenge will be when they return home as they continue to fight their addiction on their own.

“The most important thing is to maintain this in real life. After this camp, each province has a teenage counseling program. We are connected to these groups that can then keep counseling them for two months. The students are encouraged to keep up the counseling even when they return to their normal lives,” said the Head Manager at the National Center for Youth Internet Treatment, Shim Yeong-Chul.

COVID-19 Leads to Increase in Smartphone Use in Korea 

Smartphone use has skyrocketed in Korea due to COVID. Gaming companies in Korea have seen a spike in daily usage as well as social media apps during 2020 and 2021. In a way, COVID-19 has forced parents and children to spend more time on their smartphones. While parents used their smartphones to communicate or shop, children mostly used their smartphones for games or social media. Even the older generation in Korea had to adapt to technology and the digital world. Many have been introduced to online shopping for the very first time.

While all this has led to an increase in sales on eCommerce sites in Korea, gaming apps, and food delivery services, the damage is still being done. Studies have shown that the overuse of smartphones can lead to compromised sleep, higher levels of depression, and higher anxiety. Unless something is done, this trend will only continue.


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John is the Co-Founder of Seoulz. He has covered the Korean startup & tech scene for over eight years and has written over 700 articles regarding the Korean startup ecosystem. He has brought global attention to Korea's tech scene using Google SEO. Email him at

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