Books with Discourses on the Post-COVID-19 Era in Korea
The world after the pandemic
Now, we can no longer live in the way we lived before. With the outbreak of COVID-19 across the world, people have begun to divide the era into two: BC (Before Corona) and AD (After Disease). This new infectious disease did not just kill innocent people , but is severing physical movement and interpersonal interaction. With the emergence of a contactless society, a massive shift is taking place in the society, economy, and politics.
In the face of the pandemic, publishers are busy planning exclusive books about the COVID-19 era. Since March this year, books featuring the virus have been newly filling the shelves, adding new lines to the discourse so-called “post-COVID-19.” For faster publication of books, publishers chose to make them in the omnibus style, where writings of several specialists are combined in a single book.
The unprecedented spread of the virus has halted physical movement and severed interpersonal interaction.
There is a book that begins with the sentence, “Humanity will live a totally different life after COVID-19. We dare to call them the Corona Sapiens, who will live in the new world which nobody has ever experienced.”
Corona Sapiens (Influential), a collection of experts’ opinions from each industry on the pandemic, has been a hot title among bestsellers ever since it was published in early June. It is an exclusive title in which Choi Jae-Cheon (Ecology and Humanity), Jang Ha-Jun (The Economic Adjustment), Choi Jae-Bung (Transition of Civilization), Hong Ki-Bin (The New Regime), Kim Nu-Ri (The Overturn of the Worldview), and Kim Kyung-Il (A Measure of Happiness) share their outlook for the new world we will be living in after the end of the pandemic.
The economic shock brought by the virus is assessed to be the worst since the Great Depression. Jang Ha-Jun, a professor of economics at Cambridge University, diagnosed the current situation that the weak points of the economic structure have been exposed once again, adding that “Growth is merely a tool. The goal is to make society a better place to live in for everyone. Such preposterous values have nowhere to stand now.”
Meanwhile, ecologist Choi Jae-Cheon, a chair professor at the Department of Eco-Science in Ewha Womans University, said that such a virus was derived from human beings’ excessive intervention in nature, and left quite a unique outlook that “From now on, ecology-oriented companies that put the ecology at the center of their economic activities will emerge, and consumers will be choosing nothing but those businesses.”
Hong Gi-Bin, the head of Karl Polanyi Institute Asia, advised that “We have no choice but to walk towards a new civilization” as the four pillars – globalization of industries, urbanization of life, financialization of values, and commercialization of environment - that have been firmly supporting the capitalism across the world for the past 40 years have fallen. Also, Kim Nu-Ri, the head of ZeDES emphasized that Korean society has to take a different perspective that looks at human dignity with equality, moving away from meritocratic ideas.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought together new opportunities as well. It was an event that proved the explosive influence that the fourth industrial revolution could pose. In Korea, people developed applications for identifying confirmed cases of the virus and checking the inventory of masks at pharmacies supported by the government, which were all released free of charge. The Phono Sapiens in Korea adapted to the contactless society faster than any other generation and led others to follow. Choi Jae-Bung, a professor of the Service Convergence Design Institute at Sungkyunkwan University predicted that “Working from home, working 3-4 days a week, and having online classes will be the new normal for the civilization,” and argued, “The pandemic was a chance for us to see which generation is capable of overcoming the crisis more healthily and safely. If the older generations fail to actively adapt to the digital civilization, humanity would never be able to survive together.”
Kim Kyung-Il, a professor of psychology at Ajou University, claimed that it is time we put down the competition for more “public recognition” where we ceaselessly compete and compare ourselves with others in the capitalist society. He stressed that people need to focus on things that truly satisfy them, choosing to do things that they “like”, not what the society “wants,” adding that he actually began to live a life for himself since the outbreak of the virus.
Post-COVID-19 Society (Geulhangari) was one of the pandemic-related books that were published relatively faster than others in Korea in late May. It is a title in which 12 experts from different fields including Kim Soo-Ryeon, Kim Dong-Eun, Park Chul-Hyeon, Kim Min-Ah, Shim Min-Young, Kim Chang-Yeop, Woo Seok-Gyun, Baek So-Young, Chohan Jin-Hee, Kang Sung-Woon, Jung Seok-Chan, and Park Han-Seon eagerly put their heads together to collaborate. The book discusses twelve aspects of our society including globalization, capitalism, East Asia, cutting-edge technology, climate change, and national crises that were revealed with the outbreak of COVID-19 from each of the field’s perspectives ranging from medicine to anthropology.
“Among the 102 patients who were hospitalized in closed psychiatric wards on the 5th floor of Chungdo Daenam Hospital, none tested negative. On the other hand, none tested positive on other floors of the hospital. How crowded must have the wards been that led to these frustratingly different outcomes?” (Woo Seok-Kyun)
As such, the COVID-19 pandemic worked as an incident that nakedly disclosed the prevalent inequality in our society. This has even traumatized the entire society to some extent on top of the pain the confirmed cases must have felt.
The chapter “Our psychology fighting against isolation” looks at the unpleasantness and doubt in our daily life that could not be brought to the surface with bigger quarantine issues with a keen sense of human rights sensitivity. It covers the naked stories of the initial briefing of the government that did not even have a sign language interpreter, the life of people with disability who had to live incomparably more days in closed rooms feeling unimaginable fatigue, the pain of those old and sick that were regarded as less important than the inconvenience of the young and healthy generation, and the national surveillance authority that earned support and cooperation of the public by chance with the unprecedented pandemic.
Meanwhile, “COVID-19! Asia’s Experience: the True Color of Racism” reports on the racism in western society that was ignited with during the COVID-19 crisis. The reality of Asians that was uncovered with the spread of the virus is displayed in a different way than that of Africans, Jews, and Arabs. The irrationality of ignorance is discussed nakedly in the chapter. Amidst all, Korea’s achievements in quarantine efforts were discussed in an unexpected combination of “the worst surveillance country + obedient public” fused with orientalism.
The book also includes writing that concentrates on the power of religion and recovery of connectivity that “once again connects” people with God, people with people, and people with nature, going beyond the existing criticism of the irrational reason for the existence of some churches in Korea that negatively stood out during the crisis.
Post COVID-19 (Hanbit Biz) is a book released in May that offers survival strategies in the era of COVID-19 written by 7 experts in economics, medicine, education, real estate, politics, and society including Jang Doo-Seok, an assistant professor at the University of Ulsan, Kim Jae-Hun, a professor of urology at Soonchunhyang University, and Park Nam-Gi, the former head of the Korean Educational Research Association. It examines the current situation that “the spread of the virus could be a tipping point that fundamentally changes the aspects of life that we have been taking for granted.”
Many people believe that the global economy would be able to be normalized to the pre-COVID-19 level with the development of a vaccine. However, Lim Seung-Kyu, a journalist at the Reuter’s News Agency who wrote the international economy section of the book criticizes that it is only a mirage to believe that the coalition of central banks would be able to perfectly put things back to normal. He continued that in “May there wasn’t such thing as a magical silver bullet. Since the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, the central banks have been striving to bring back the massive bubble, and it would be rather reasonable to see that such a ‘Voodoo’ act of the central banks has been hiding the credit risk that was already near us.”
The book uses the word “Ozark” as a metaphor for the global economy in the future. In the Netflix series with the same title, this word is the name of a vacation spot in Missouri where people launder money for drug transactions. Marty’s family that runs the business suffers from endless threats, conciliation, and anxiety even after moving to Ozark – the family even wins over an FBI agent to further continue with the business more safely. It seems that the reality of the central banks that print out an infinite amount of easy money as the hostage of the market is somewhat identical to Marty’s family.
The book predicts the possibility of “nationalism” to fill in the great missing hole in global governance spurred by the lethargic western power in the global order. Also, it hints at the possibility that the relationship between the US and China that has been in an icy stalemate with trade conflicts could be reconsidered from the ground level.
The book also offers a diagnosis for real estate. The supply of commercial space that requires face-to-face contact would shrink in size from both short-term and long-term perspectives, and with changing demands, the industrial structure will be re-engineered, which will ultimately bring a massive change to the role of industrial real estate.
We also need to think about what would come next after the successful “K-Quarantine” that has been spotlighted across the world. The fruit of systematic epidemiology and training carried out by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Korean Society for Preventive Medicine since the MERS outbreak was finally proved. Professor Kim Jae-Hun advised that “The decision-makers regarding infections and quarantine must be specialists in those fields, not politicians, and the ultimate success may only be achieved with the rational behavior of the general public.”
One of the most frequently quoted words in the media during the first half of this year was “Uncontact.” Meaning non-contact or contactless, the word refers to a state where people are not directly connected and don’t meet in person. A book that argues “uncontact” is not merely about social distancing, but is the desire embedded inside our heart as we live in the “anxious but convenient” society, and the most important megatrend that penetrates generations. It is Uncontact (Publion). Being an early bird in the market – published in late April by Kim Yong-Sup, an expert trend forecaster, it introduces the real aspects of contactless life that we will be soon facing in three sections (contactless daily life, contactless business, and contactless community) with detailed case studies. He explained that “A contactless society was a predicted future. It is just that the speed of transition has accelerated with the unexpected outbreak of the virus.”
If the history until today has been evolving humanity in the way that maximizes offline connection and exchange, things have changed – online connection and exchange have taken the main lead where offline meetings are added as a supplement. In other words, “uncontact” is no severance, but an evolution of a “contact” society. For us to be connected in a safer, more convenient, and effective way, we are accepting the “uncontact” technologies in which people do not necessarily have to face each other for connection. Kim explained that “Our community will remain valid in the ‘uncontact’ society after all. We will remain a social animal after all as well. Yet, the way we build relationships, interact, and connect will change, where contactless non-face-to-face interactions will increase, and robots or IT technologies might replace some of our jobs.”
The publication of books that provide true, in-depth discourses has just begun.
Discourses on the post-COVID-19 era have been established as a massive market in the Korean publishing industry since April this year. Dozens of books were released with the title “COVID-19” until early July. Corona Sapiens and Uncontact gained enough popularity to enter the top 10 ranks of integrated bestsellers. This result derives from the current situation that more people have been spending more time reading books during the self-quarantine period. Also, it can be seen that in the face of the dramatically transforming society and economy, people were looking for something positive to help them overcome their anxiety.
However, as books featuring COVID-19 are flooding the market today, the sales records of later arrivals seems unsatisfying. Books that collected writings of experts even gave the impression that the books lack in quality. So perhaps books that contain in-depth discourses on the post-COVID-19 era may be published later than next year with richer research and insights based on cumulated data the writer has collected for more than a year. Therefore, the publishing market for post-COVID-19 can be said to have just begun.
Written by Kim Seul-Gi (Journalist, Department of Culture, Maeil Business Newspaper)