Convenience stores are indeed convenient. They are great in that not only do they sell literally all kinds of goods, but that many of them are open for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It does not matter whether you have to get some paper clips for your office before going to work, or whether you are craving a canned coffee on the way home from school at a late hour, fully preparing yourself for an all-night cramming. Find a convenience store nearby, and it always is open, with the night workers dutifully ready to welcome you. Even on weekends and Christmases, such scene can be always relied upon to add a bit more convenience to your daily life. Convenience can be easily bought in Korea, and is nearly always taken for granted.
Now, imagine what life would be like if such stores ceased to exist; if owners of every single convenience store in the country suddenly decided to close their shops around seven or eight in the evening, either because they would like a hot meal at home with their family rather than staying at the till, or because they would like to save some money on hiring night workers. They may also decide that they do not want to get up so early in the morning anymore; they may want some humane sleep-in now and then, and their employees may agree whole-heartedly.
Such imagination becomes reality in some parts of the world. In many European countries, for example, it is difficult to find an open shop after seven in the evening, unless you seek out the big stores downtown. It is a simple tradeoff; people sacrifice their leisure for easy access to others’ cheap labor. The abundance of 24- hour convenience stores and the large number of night workers that make this possible is not irrelevant to the fact that out of the 35 OECD countries, only Korea, apart from three others, totals longer than 2,000 hours in 2016; 2,076 hours, to be exact. Korea has averaged over 2,000 working hours for every single year since 2008, when its statistics are first charted. The OECD average in 2016 was 1,763 hours.
Such numbers show us that the omnipresence of all-night convenience stores accepted as the norm in Korea does not necessarily mean that its citizens’ lives are thus enriched. In fact, they may be impoverished all the more for it. Is that society a good one if its members, instead of enjoying a well-earned rest at home after a hard day at work, are driven into situations where they need all the take-out meals and caffeine drinks that a convenience store provides, ready to be purchased day or night, all the days of the week?
It is time for those of us who have grown so accustomed to easily-bought, late-hour convenience to at least ask ourselves now and then, whether we are going down the right road. Sometimes it may be simply healthier if people were readier to sacrifice a bit of everyday convenience for some more comfort in life.
Hong Ki-yeon firstname.lastname@example.org