This, my friends is a little phone app called Kakao Talk. In Korea, this is more important than a lot of things… eating dinner, having a job, maybe combing your hair everyday. (Scratch that, nothing is more important than having recently combed hair.) It’s so important, because it’s the universal free messaging application used by Koreans. I’m not just talking young people here… I’m talking everyone. Like my co-workers. Like if my mom was in Korea right now, she’d have Kakao. Actually, she already does, because I made her and my immediate family download it. When I first got my phone, a Korean friend of mine took it and immediately installed Kakao. My phone was essentially naked before the Kakao app, now it’s fully clothed and ready to go out in public. If there’s a smart phone that exists in Korea without this application installed, it’s probably in the bottom of a garbage can.
What’s the big deal, though? This application is essentially just a substitution for text-messaging and lets you message anyone for free, even international numbers. Why not just text my friends, phone to phone? And Facebook chat with my friends abroad? (Everyone knows I don’t even have friends!) Well, Korean phone companies haven’t quite caught onto the whole unlimited text messaging idea that I’m used to back in the USA. I (obviously) bought the cheapest plan possible, so my text message limit is fairly low. Can you guess why Kakao is so important now? Because I have to message my acquaintances at least and now, I’ll never have overages from texting!
It’s nice because you can send messages, pictures and even videos that you’ve taken. You can send 15+ messages in a row just to be obnoxious (at no extra cost to your friend, but possibly the extra cost of losing their friendship for you). You can group chat. You can make “status” messages to show up next to your name, you can choose a picture for your messaging profile and you can change the background of the messaging screen. It’s very customizable. However, none of this really compares to the main advantage / perk of Kakao…
^^ THE EMOTICONS ^^
THERE ARE SO MANY TO CHOOSE FROM. The USA has the three basic smileys: :), :(, and ;). Anything beyond that is generally considered unusual, but even those three basic emoticons might be the subject of some disapproval among some, but mostly just super manly men. You know, men can’t show emotion, so emoticons are definitely out of the question. But in Korea, men can use as many emoticons as they want. And so can women. And so can your boss or your aunt or your six year old cousin with a smart phone. Emoticons are super cool, here… probably because there are (once again) SO MANY TO CHOOSE FROM.
The emoticons come in sets. The main set includes EIGHTY FIVE emoticons/images… and they’re included with the app by default. You can download a couple more animated sets for free or for a few bucks a piece, which are usually more contemporary or funny. Some feature an animal drawing, some are a bit risque, there’s a Hello Kitty set, and there are always a handful based off of a popular k-pop group.
Generally, I stick to the free ones. I debate buying the Hello Kitty set on a nightly basis though, and it’s beginning to haunt my dreams. I will publicly admit that I broke down at one point and paid $2 for 18 animated cat emoticons. I have no regrets.
So maybe you’re thinking that all of this is stupid. You think that text itself should be enough. I’m a writer, I should be able to write the correct words without pictures and get my point across easily. Who needs smileys or emoticons, let alone those elaborate ridiculous sets that you pay for? Well, to that person I’d like to respond with the following:
You obviously don’t get it.
If Korea is in your future, so is Kakao Talk. Download your application ahead of time and become accustomed to the constant bombardment of random emoticons. Practice a few. Check out those free sets. Convince yourself that words are not enough, you need pictures of faces that don’t even remotely resemble a real person’s face to get your message across effectively. Because nothing quite compares to the feeling you get when your friend can’t come hang out and you send them 20 sad and crying faces in a row. You’ll click send, look at what you’ve sent, and you’ll think: yes. that’s exactly how I feel.
Thank goodness for emoticons.