How Distance Made My Heart Grow Fonder for Tech

Having been away from the Bay Area for the past 2 years, I’ve missed out on several things. Don’t get me wrong — I was still “in tech” in Seoul. I’d been immersing myself in the growing startup scene, which I’d been involved with and keeping my eye on ever since I left college , but unsurprisingly the tech scene wasn’t exactly the same in Korea. I tried to follow things as closely as possible, but when in conversations with friends who were living in SF I was still always the one asking “What? What’s X?”

After the initial FOMO subsided, not responding with a “Yea I’ve already tried X with my early invite last week!” didn’t feel so bad. I realized that as much and as fast as SF buzzed, things disappeared just as quickly. Why had I been so obsessed with these fleeting spikes of attention, and what perspectives had I been blind to regarding how technologies were impacting us as consumers?

I accepted my new status as an outsider, and it was…refreshing. I was impressed and wowed by many things, but what struck me the most were following:

One — the products and services I found myself relying on that I used before I moved — hellooo Dropbox, Facebook, Uber, and a small handful of others. Despite being in a completely different culture and environment, their practical presence in my life didn’t waver;

Two — the Korean technologies my friends in the US were adopting and vice versa. I somehow convinced friends to mainly use Kakaotalk with me to communicate and in true Korean trend fashion, all my Korean friends were glued to their Instagram feeds within months in 2013 (we like to flock to trends in masses). The spread of behavior across borders is fascinating;

Three — the competitors popping up in both ecosystems and how they were driving innovation further — Jandi in Korea for enterprise communication, a flurry of apps to mimic the growth of Korea’s Cashslide, and not to mention food-related delivery, ride sharing, and of course dating. I used to dismiss these as mere copycats, but why should replicating a business idea in a new market discredit the execution behind it? Ideas are cheap. Startups are problem solving and iterating, as all startups do.

I must have used the term “global” when describing startups and technology tens of millions of times before in the past, but I don’t think I could have understood it in the same way without seeing how tech was evolving to fit diverse markets, helping relationships both personal and professional thrive, and inspiring new solutions around the world. The connections, overlaps, and transformation of technologies across markets offered just as many interesting conversations, strong opinions on strategy, and insight into what was to come in the future.

My favorite part though, is being able to appreciate technology again for more than just a headline. On a recent visit to SF, I tried UberPool for the first time. I gushed the entire weekend — “Did you know?? Only $15 from SFO!” (Sorry to those who had to listen to me, and thanks for humoring me ☺).

And while I know I am so late to the game, I kinda love that I am.

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