The Psychology of ‘1’

- Why Do We React Sensitively to ‘1’? -

2014 Book Writing & Design Project 
My Role: Research + Writing
Team members: Si-eun Lee (Research + Editorial Design), 
Sae-gun Oh (Research + Illustration), 
Ou-selae Jang (Research)

What is Kakao Talk?

Kakao Talk is one of the most widely used instant messaging 
applications in Korea. One of the reasons that made this application special out of many other mobile communication applications is their signature sign '1' next to text bubbles that disappears

as soon as the receiver reads the message. 

What Does “1” Signify?

The '1' sign was initially introduced to indicate the number of people who read the message in group chats, it was then used in

one-on-one chats to further numerically signify the other person. 

This simple numeric function of a sign '1' has not only offered us with greater convenience, but also produced various responses

and behaviors. 


This research explores how technological development in 
communication tools has changed the ways people communicate, 
especially after the introduction of Kakao Talk. This research also 
examines how and why the sign ‘1’causes people to react in certain ways on interface. 


As soon as messages are sent, 

the sign ‘1’ and the time appear next to 

the message bubble, subconsciously urging the receiver to respond. 

The date notification that pops up after midnight

makes us feel as if it is part of the conversation thread.

The pointy tails of message bubbles that come out from

profile picture make us feel as if the sender is

directly speaking to us. 

The more people talk by sending message bubbles, the faster

it scrolls up. It makes us to keep up with the speed of conversation

that makes us feel as if we are

washed away by a strong wave. 

Kakao Talk has many different 
emoticons to help us express 
our feelings on interface. 
Such emoticons, however, tend to 
be bright and silly, which often 
dilute our sad or angry feelings. 

The exit alarm that pups up 
in the middle of conversations 
to inform that someone has left 
the group chat gives a public attention. 


-The following extracts are taken from the book, 
The Psychology of 1”-

The Stories about Conversations 

“I remember in few years back, the ways we talk to people were quite different from now. 
When we were young, we used to contact friends by calling from home or texting with our cellphones. 
It is surprising to realize that it has been only three years since I began to send messages using smartphone in real time.”

People communicate through various ways, and new 
communication modes continue to emerge within quickly 
changing societies. In our daily lives, we are constantly 
influenced by how we communicate and which 
communication mode we use. 


The ways people communicate have gradually, yet, dramatically changed depending on the means of communication, such as face-to-face interactions,

phone calls, text messages, websites, and SNS.  

Time Intervals Within our Conversations

What if the intentions behind time intervals within our conversation can be indirectly delivered?

SNS sends and records messages.

Similarly, Kakao Talk indicates the time the message

was sent, along with the '1' sign next to the message bubbles to signal the sender whether or not the message was read. As a result, we are unconsciously illusioned as if we are measuring the time. 
We feel as if the time of each conversation is prolonged by visually recorded time and intervals.

'Ilgssib,' Read and Unresponded 

'Ilgssib' is an abbreviation of read and unresponded

in Korean. It is often used as a slang in SNS when the receiver reads but doesn't respond to the messages. 

This word did not exist until SNS expanded through increased numbers of Kakao Talk users, many of whom had their messages read, but left unresponded. 

After sending messages to someone, most of us silently 
wait for the other person to respond.
But if we do not receive any response even after 
the '1' sign dissapears, we begin to wonder and 
overthink in our heads.

"What happened? Is he/she busy?"
"Did I do something wrong?"

We feel ignored and disrespected by the other person 
for not responding to our messages. 
Consequently, unresponded messages are more often than not misunderstood by the receivers, resulting in unintended disappointments and overthinking. 

As such, the word Ilgssib and a disappeared '1' with no response signify complex feelings and thoughts underlying between the sender and the receiver. 

Why Do We React Sensitively to ‘1’?

A Sign  That 'I'm Listening to You.'

The sign '1' on Kakao Talk conversations functions as 
a reality medium to show that the sender is listened. 
The sign '1' on Kakao Talk distinguishes from simply sending texts messages; it simulates conversations in reality space. 


In virtual space, authenticity of conversations is easily 
questioned due the absence of physical interactions, such as eye-contact, hand movements, and facial expressions. Yet, in Kakao Talk, the sign '1' functions as an 'eye-contact' that helps people project the counterpart's attitude and signals whether or not the other person is listening.  

The Weight of Conversation

The sign '1' helps us feel the weight of conversations. 

Kakao Talk does not limit the word counts, nor does it charge fees. Different from text messages in which each word is written with attention, Kakao Talk provides space for people to freely 'talk': you can send couple words when bored, say simple and unimportant things to kill time. 

However, the sign '1' weightens up the level of conversation by giving people a sense of presence with

a subtle signal of a mutual respect to respond upon reading the message. 

'1', Insignificant, yet, significant 

All our psychological and emotional reactions together are the result of virtual presence of the 'other' that is numerically symbolized as '1.'
We often overthink and overreact to conversations we have on virtual space 
because all these interactions are part of real life relationships.

People are now becoming more and more intertwined with smartphones;

as a result, our real life is expanded to virtual space. The '1' is therefore a reflection of insignificant, yet, significant part of ourselves, 
hoping to be listened and cared by others. 

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