Sunday, July 22, 2007

Details Matter

A lack of attention to detail is the kind of stuff that happens in Korea quite frequently.

I'm not one-hundred percent sure why. My theory is it has a lot to do with culture and the learning style developed here which encourages students to memorize and regurgitate information rather than process it and piece it together on their own. It also probably has a lot to do with the hierarchial nature of society here where doing what you're told is more valued than initiative and problem solving skills.

What that means is you're virtually guaranteed in every situation that details have been overlooked or not even considered. This means there is pretty much always a situation where unforeseen problems arise because no one has thought far enough ahead to consider the various contingencies. There are exceptions and it's one reason I love my job. I've never experienced an administration in Korea that is so organized and detail oriented. However, a lack of attention to detail occurs more often than not here. When I first arrived that irked me to no end because I tend to be very detail oriented. I've learned to just roll with it and shrug when all hell breaks loose, but acceptance of it doesn't change my character.

So wouldn't you know I was reading an article today in The Korea Times online on a philosophy conference which will occur in Seoul. However, they left out a cricial detail: the year. The article says the conference will happen from July 30th to August 5th which shocked me as I'd heard nothing about one. I then found the conference's website and it will happen NEXT year. Okay, that makes more sense, but factor that to almost everytime you do something and you can see just how irksome those types of oversights can be.

Here is the article. If you can find any hint that it will be next year, let me know. I mean I could be my error, but I don't think so.
Seoul to Hold Meeting of Philosophers

Seoul will hold the largest international gathering of academic philosophers from July 30 to Aug. 5.

Co-hosted by the Korean Philosophical Association and the International Federation of Philosophical Societies, the 22nd World Congress of Philosophy will host thousands of philosophers from all over the world.

The weeklong event, which will be held at Seoul National University, aims to help participants share their academic achievements and friendship, the organizers said Sunday.

The quinquennial event is expected to draw more than 3,000 prominent philosophers from some 150 countries, such as Alain Badiou and Luc Ferry of France, Peter Sloterdijk and Vittorio Hosle of Germany and Judith Butler of the United States.

South Korea is the first Asian country to host the event. Over the past 107 years, all of the previous world congresses were held in Europe or the Americas.

Sphere: Related Content


  1. No clue that could lead to guess the year, unless one is ready to draw a mathematical expression.

    By counting the years over which the meeting has been hosted, and at the same time trying to consider the accuracy of the quoted figures, then you can deduct the following: if so far 21 meetings have been hosted, every 5 years, then not 107 years have passed, but 105.

    Or at least this is what I can get from the article.

    These are just venial inaccuracies, actually. It's graver that the writer has let the reader assume the congress was this year.

    I bet someone will show up at the venue this July 30th...

  2. Hehehehe, yeah. I'm not ready to make a mathematical word problem to figure out whether it was 2007, which it appears to be because articles like this pop up a day or so before big events like this, or 2008, which is what I discovered when I went to the conference website to verify the information.

    That verification step is what the NEWSPAPER is supposed to do. They also didn't publish the conference website. I didn't either but, honestly, it's not that hard to find.

    Inaccuracies like this happen ALL the time. I bet some people very well might show up. I know at my uni we got randoms showing up to events too because they'd read about it somewhere.

    I'm used to it, and most Koreans can't see the significance of what I'm saying when I point these issues out. They see it as being "picky". However, you can't very well become the "hub of Asia" if you can't communicate simple information.

    I wish them luck with that because the folks in Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai have figured this much out.

  3. I totally agree with you. I think details are important, because they in many cases define the substance of a thing.

    In the case of the press, details become fundamental, because they affect the accuracy of information and therefore the right of the people to be informed.

    This seems a concept we take for granted, but evidently in Korea it has still to be elaborated. The reasons why the concept of accuracy, the attention to details, is not a part of work's DNA can be the subject of studies and speculations at a later time, hehe...

    Perform a test, if you can: read the two major newspapers in Korea for a week, focusing on the articles referring the same news, and compare the similarities and the differences, while noting the inaccuracies, of course... ;)

    When ready, write a post about the result of your personal test, and let us know.

  4. LOL, well, I know you might be serious but it's not my country or my news media to save. We've got enough issues with the press back home. I know it's not DNA - there are enough Korean-American journalists doing quite well back home to just skip that line of thought completely.

    I recently met someone shipped in from the States to help them up their game to international standards at one of the major papers and, let's just say, I wouldn't want that positiion to save my life.

    They'll either figure it out or they won't. In the meantime, I'll just keep pointing it out to friends and hope they "get" it. In one of my PR courses that was the frequent lament of our Korean professor - how unprofessional the Korean media is.

    However, who knows? I just might be bored enough in the next coming weeks to perform that informal test.

  5. Wow. I never would have thought of it that way. In all my years living in Vietnam, I never noticed a lack of attention to detail; in fact, I would have said that the education system emphasizes petty details over critical thinking. So dates matter more than actual ideas. Your piece provides a different perspective.

  6. Hey Preya...different login?

    Anyway, I'm not talking about Vietnam. I'm talking about Korea. While they both might be Asian countries, their cultures are different and I wouldn't even dare to generalize to what Vietnam is like.

    My point is Korea-specific because I don't know enough about how the other countries run to even know. To take what I wrote as a reflection of any other place would be a bad idea.

    Furthermore, this is also not about the content of what is taught education system. This is about habitually being unable to think critically and discern what details are important. If you have to memorize facts that's not figuring out how they fit together or why they fit together.

    I would say the lack of attention to detail does flow directly from their education system because unless I tell my students exactly how to perform a task it's rare that students will think on their feet and just improvise. It's happened, but that's very rare. What's more common is a room of young adults who can't think beyond doing what they're told.

    I think it's because that creative spark is stamped out very early here and it's more about falling in line, doing what your told.

  7. That is the last conference I would have expected to be held in Seoul. Well, the annual convention of Japanese War Veterans might be a bit less likely, but I still stand by my point.

    The lack of detailed planning, to my thinking, stems from the pervasive bbali-bbali culture of Korea. Quantity over quality, "can do" vs. "that'll do." At times, the attitude has served Korea well, as in their rapidfire development. At other times - i.e. the Sampoong Department Store - it's been a disaster. Usually, the results are somewhere in between, as with the wallpaper job in my apartment.

    Rarely, though, do folks seem stand back and question the long-term effects of their actions, which makes that philosopher's conference all the more surprising.

  8. Hey aaron thanks for stopping by ;-)

    The bbali-bbali* culture is definitely part of it.

    But I want to then step back to figure out where the bbali-bbali aspect itself came from. I think it's more complex than not even though, from our perspective, it's simple to fix.

    I don't think either of us is that far off the mark about why it's all about quantity or getting the job done half-assed over getting it done right but who ever wants to think their theory is off the mark? One thing I've wondered about is how many work hours are wasted in Korea re-doing stuff that wasn't done right in the first place.

    To their credit however, a friend did call me this morning to double check a name her company has planned for a new project. Now whether they take my advice (or, at least, solicit the advice of other English speakers) is another issue, but, at least, the thought process happened, she acted on it and made a call. She can't be the only one figuring out that maybe getting it right the first time around is better than screwing it up out of haste and having to do it again.

    As for this conference is all about status. And, unless there are academics who've actually lived and worked here, what do they know? From that perspective, I can see why Seoul National University (probably with the support of the old guard and the government) fought to host it.


    *bbali-bbali = "quickly-quickly" or "fast-fast" to those not in Korea or familiar with Korean culture.


Hey there! Thanks for visiting my blog. It's my first blog, and I'm glad folks are still stopping by even though I'm no longer living in South Korea. Feel free to comment. If you want a personal answer, leave your email, and I won't publish the comment. Nasty comments and spam links will not be tolerated.