Trend Korea 2022: Kim Nan-do's top predictions for Korean society next year

The other day in the office I noticed a coworker reading a book that looked interesting, titled "Trend Korea 2022." Apparently the author, Kim Nan-do, is a popular professor from SNU who annually makes predictions for Korean society that have so far been pretty accurate. If you take a look at his predictions list, you can see that most of these already have germinated in society today, so really the predictions seem more like those areas of social change that Professor Kim feels will most strongly grow and expand in the coming year. 

So I thought it would be fun to take a quick look at the main gist of his predictions. The Korean already did a quick hit about him, but I thought I would expand on that to take a look at some examples of what Professor Kim sees in 2022. 

Trend Korea. Image credited to Mirae-eui Chang, via BlueRoofPolitics

Kim Nan-do's top predictions for Korean society, 2022

Professor Kim organizes his main points around the acrostic phrase "TIGER OR CAT." 

This is more than just a handy memorizing method. "Tiger or cat" refers to the fact that next year, 2022, is the Year of the Tiger in the old Asian zodiac. Whether or not Koreans and Korean society at large can successfully adapt to the types of changes Professor Kim predicts will in large part determine whether 2022 will be an auspicious year, where Korea roars like a tiger, or a problematic year where Korea purrs like a cat. 

So here is what Professor Kim predicts. I'll try to translate the gist of each of his points and, without having read this book, try to give some contextualization to his comments. Forgive me for any errors or misunderstandings. For entertainment purposes only. 

Trend Korea 2020 "Tiger or Cat". Image: Maeil Economic Daily

T - Transition into a Nano Society

Nano society

Already divided, society will continue to fragment into many pieces, where individuals' separation will increase and accelerate.  

Already we've seen how growing individualism and the pandemic accelerated these trends. Expect to see more such fragmentation as online communities grow more and more specific and niche and people spend more time physically separated from friends and family and rely more and more on technology, grocery and food delivery, streaming entertainment services, etc. This fragmentation into "nano" sized "communities" is part of the foundational basis behind all the other trends on this list. 

I - Incoming money rush

Money rush

The era of the single secure job is over. We will depend more and more on 2 (often part-time) jobs, and a strong focus on investments in things like crypto, NFT, etc. 

We can already see the obsession young people have with stocks, trading, cryptocoinage, etc. If "YouTube star" was the top desire for kids a few years ago, that generation has grown into young adulthood with an absolute obsession with this type of income. Seriously, talk to any young Korean guy in his 20s and they know more about stock trading than most. I know guys who wake up and the first thing they do is read tickers and outlooks and get all their daily trading in by 9am, then watch anxiously throughout the day. They seem to enjoy the "rush" from earning money in a way I haven't seen much before. I suppose the economic uncertainty and job insecurity in their generation is big part of this. 

G - Gotcha Power

"Deuk-tem" 득템

I'd never heard this phrase. Apparently it comes from the PC gaming world, and refers to getting an item, some kind of in-game power-up or etc. Don't ask me, I still play Pac-Man. 

For societal purposes, the term referrs to heightened focus on acquiring "power items" that have high value that generally can't be acquired purely by normal purchasing methods. Hard to get, limited edition items, rare items, luxury items. Think Starbucks picnic sets, limited edition sneakers and handbags, etc. These items possess not only economic value but also highly valuable social clout, especially in the social media SNS dominated era. 

E - Escaping the concrete jungle

Rustic Life

The idea of places and escapes in the city where you can enjoy relaxing countryside style life, have spare time, relaxed, free for leisure. 

Think of the amenities of the "new town" developments. 

R - Revelers in health

Healthy pleasure

Refers to the trend of young people taking care of health early on, since a young age. 

You must notice that young Koreans often hit the gym, exercise clubs, and focus on "body fit" much more than their previous generations did at their age. Probably an outshoot of the Instagram fueled body challenge ideals. 

O - Opening the X-files of Generation X-teen

X-teen is back

The protagonist or main characters of 2022 will continue to be Generation X, who are those now in their 40s who have acquired all the wealth, and spend it as if they themselves are teenagers. 

Think of all the young-acting, young-looking people in their 40s who take the trips, buy the goods, go to concerts, listen to the same BTS that their daughter listens to, into gaming and tech trends, etc. One look at the popular movies coming out these days shows some examples of this.  

R - Routinize yourself

Proper healthy life routine

People who live "the good life," the proper life balance, all about routines baked in to make it happen.

Focus on a life of rules, regularity, making your own health a priority, good self-management. To me this is an offshoot of the growing OCD-type behaviors I've seen among the young. Keeping carefully maintained schedule planners with a focus on time management and "everything in it's place and a place for everything." I'm not saying this in a bad way, by the way. Some of today's youth are super achievers and well-organized. Making time for gym, study, book clubs, etc. Obviously not a hugely new trend but one that will continue to expand as people have more "me time" thanks to the Nano Society trend and less unstructured social events. 

C - Connecting together through extended presence

Non-face-to-face, "untact" life will expand. VR tech, metaverses, etc. Life and business will be done online more than real life. We know Facebook wants us to go "Meta" but plenty of Korean services are doing it too, from business like Hancom Town to government agencies. A lot will get done in cyberspace now that used to be actual physical human contact.

A - Actualizing consumer power

"Like" Commerce 

Whether through SNS like Facebook or Instagram or "live shopping" services in Naver or Kakao, this generation shops by looking at what others are doing online. 

Korean portals are already going full speed with this (see Naver and Kakao muscle in on live commerce). And if you want to see something really creepy, look at Naver Shopping Live homepage and watch how much multiple live entertainment-information-commercial "enterinfomercial" content is going on at once. The future is here people. 

Screenshot from Naver Shopping Live. All of these thumbnails display live simultaneous video.

T - Tell me your narrative

Narrative assest, equity, capital

This is an interesting one that (if I understand what he means correctly) is something I've noticed but never really put my finger on. The idea that an increasing trend will be a focus on one's own "story" or narrative as a marketable skill. Your own story brings competitive power for entrepreneurial projects or personal appeal. Your persona is your skill. Personal brand power. Which extends to corporations too. 

In other words, any successful company will need not just a good product; they need a good story. Think about companies like Apple, that have a certain story, image, "feel" that consumers buy into more than the actual objective quality or value of the products. Think of guys like Elon Musk who attracts buyers sometimes less for the quality of his Tesla vehicles than the feel of being a small part of his vision of the future. Guys who buy a Tesla because they like to part of the SpaceX team in some way, or just love a CEO who cracks meme jokes on Twitter. 

Like all the other trends on the list, this could stem from the "Nano Society" idea where we no longer have solid friend groups or family ties, and feeling like lone individuals in a cold faceless world, we cling (with our wallet) to companies, brands, personas that embrace what we see as our ideals. That company is "our kind of people" and we will spend accordingly. 

Final thoughts

I think you can see that none of these trends are especially new things, and all have already started accelerating well before now. That's not really the point. 

I think the point is that all of the things going on in society, it's these that Professor Kim has focused on as the most substantial for harnessing if we want to ensure prosperity and success. So if you're a company thinking about a marketing or branding campaign, take a good look at this list and see how you can fit your product/message accordingly. If we not only embrace but utilize and take advantage of these trends, we can maintain healthy economic outlooks. If we fail to acknowledge or appreciate them, we risk falling behind. 

I don't think he is necessarily making a moral judgement here. Just sharing the facts as he sees them. And I would say, based on what we've seen over the past 5 years and the past last year, I would say he's right. 

Then again, I haven't even read the book. I skimmed a news article and had a 15 minute chat with a coworker who is way too into this stuff. But it's interesting nonetheless. 

Here's to hoping 2022 will be a TIGER year and not a CAT year.