Technology in the 1970s: Teens in South Korea

Sarah Pae
Student, Kapi’olani Community College
University of Hawai’i

Living in South Korea in the 1970s could be described as very poverty-racked and unsophisticated, or, in other words, a lot of Korean people lived a simple yet rough life. Back then, your economic background would have a huge impact on your lifestyle. To clarify, in Korea at the time, there was a countryside and a city side. Due to the poor economy, the people in the city lived a more comfortable life.  

My mother lived in the countryside, so she’s had many hard challenges to overcome from being able to take warm, hot showers, receiving fresh bread from the market on special occasions and only being able to write letters, or using beepers to receive messages. It is fascinating how you can see technology being developed so quickly throughout the years, from writing and receiving letters to using smartphones and being able to look up anything on the Internet. Living in South Korea in the 1970s is best described as very different and not as complex as today.  

My mother shared her experience on how she dealt with “old” technology in the 1970s and how she spent her time with friends.
My mother talked about her life when she was younger to my younger brother and me very often. Everyone in my family household carries an iPhone, and, obviously, my mother did not know the functions as well as my brother and I, so we would have to teach and show her how to properly use it.  I would always assume that during my mother’s high school years, she lived a very bland and boring life because I couldn’t understand how one could enjoy life without social media. I interviewed her and asked her how she would text messages with her friends in middle school and high school.

Minutes into our conversation, she said, “When I was in middle school, my classmates and I would only be able to communicate and hangout at school because we didn’t have phones or any type of social media.” I couldn’t exactly remember a time where I didn’t have social media because I started using Facebook when I first got a phone in the fifth grade, so I couldn’t really imagine the time before I started using social media.  

During the interview, my mother also said, “We were so pure that we only wrote letters and would only hang out with the kids in the neighborhood because there was no transportation to play with friends who lived outside of the neighborhood. I think, around high school, beepers started to become super trendy. We call them bbibbi’s, and they looked kind of like a pager except they would only alert you when the person you’re receiving a call from wants to notify you.”  

“Around high school, beepers started to become super trendy. We called them bbibbi’s.”

My mother spent a lot of her time at the library, cafes, neighborhood park, and the beach. Traditionally speaking, it was unacceptable to have friends come over because it would show a lack of respect. I thought, How did she enjoy quality time with her close friends, and how would she have met them with no comfortable transportation and cellphone?

“South Korea in the 80s in [1080p] | Nostalgic”

According to Kim, “In a technology-obsessed country where people use their mobile phones to browse the Web, watch television, and purchase goods, the pager, the simple wireless device that alerts the wearer to messages, is as fashionable as cave drawings. Now, the fate of pagers, once affectionately called by Koreans as ‘ppippi’ (beep beeps), hangs on the persistence of a single company, Seoul Mobile Telecom.” These pagers were so trendy that, compared to today’s generation, it was considered the newest “Samsung” or “iPhone.”  

My mother also said she found it interesting how pagers are still a thing in hospitals and that it’s still something that exists even now despite having so much more advanced technology. My mother also shared a fun experience she had when she first carried around a pager: “All of my friends had a pager, and back then they were so expensive that I worked extra hours at a small cafe just to purchase one on my own. We didn’t have telephones or home phones and so having one around was so convenient. In this generation, you guys could easily send a text message, and the person would receive it right away. Back then, we had to get alerted through our pagers and make calls through the pay phone that would be located across the street.”

It was very captivating to hear my mother speak about her experience using a pager when she was my age. My mother mentioned that she met my dad through a pager and how they would use the payphone and write letters to each other. In this generation, a date would be the mall or the movies or even a late-night drive, but back then my parents used to meet at small cafes, and they would send love letters to address their feelings toward each other.

Quickly, technology developed, and my mother went from pagers to carrying around super large cell phones to make contact with others. The cellphone was so large to the point where it almost resembled the length of a toothbrush.

Taking pictures would be done through old vintage film cameras, and when my mother was a newborn, the pictures would come out with an orangish tint, but as she got older, with better technology, the pictures came out with color, but it wouldn’t be as saturated as today. Back then cameras were super expensive to the point where it was rare for a senior in high school to afford one, and if you had one, you were known as the “popular kid” in school.

My grandfather had one of his own, and it was his all-time favorite vintage camera. He cherished it a lot because it was super rare. When my mother was a middle schooler, she was going to a school event at the park and thought it would be fun to bring the camera to take some pictures with her friends. She ended up losing it at the park due to her lack of responsibility at such a young age, and, of course, my grandfather was very disappointed. My mother said that it was one of the most traumatic experiences of her life because she knew how special and expensive the camera was. Actually, many years later, my mother was given a camera by my father as a gift when they were still in the dating phase.

The type of camera my mother and many others used in the 1980s, from Moreska’s “Seoul Korea vintage Korean advertising circa 1980 for camera shop – ‘Keeping Up with the Hasselblads.'”

In today’s generation, you can find any type of camera in a store, and you can even take pictures from your phone. Nowadays, if we want to capture a picture with a “vintage” feel, we would go on apps and maybe even purchase a film camera for an affordable price. My mother would have to go to a local store and have the pictures developed and printed, unlike today where we can save photos and even shoot videos that are saved on our phone.  

Even though I knew my mother lived a different life in the past, I never really saw the beauty and importance of it. When I was a little bit younger, my mother would always ask me questions, and she would ask me to show her tutorials on how to use her phone. I would get upset and irritated. I thought, How can a person not know where the camera app is?

But as I’m getting older and hear her stories and past experiences when she was my age, I can understand her struggle to learn because I realize that it would be difficult for me to adjust to using a pager to communicate with my friends.

My mother is my biggest role model in life because, even though fitting into this new world can be a little bit of a struggle, she is always trying her best to make adjustments and improve. I think a lot of people my age with Asian background, could relate to my experience because, most likely, their parents grew up in the 1970s-1980s, similar to my mother. After hearing my mother’s experience, I think I would have loved to encounter a time where mostly everything was pure and judgment free. It is so interesting how the world is slowly advancing its technology and at the same time it’s kind of scary to find out how it can change even more in the future. Who knows that, in the future, my kids will be teaching me how to use the newest mobile phone.

Works Cited

Kim, Tong-Hyung. “Diehard Pagers Giving Final Beep.” The Korea Times, 14 July 2010, 

Moreska. “Seoul Korea Vintage Korean Advertising circa 1980 for Camera Shop – ‘Keeping up with the Hasselblads.’” Flickr, Yahoo!, 19 May 2016, 

Pae, HyeJung. Personal interview. 30 Nov. 2022.

“South Korea in the 80s in [1080p] | Nostalgic.” YouTube, YouTube, 9 Sept. 2021, 

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