“In traditionally collectivist South Korea, individualist loners, or honjok, are becoming increasingly common. The term, which translates to “alone tribe,” shortens and combines 나홀로, meaning “by myself,” and 족, “tribe.” It’s used to describe a group of people who prefer, out of pleasure or practicality — and, often, utter exhaustion and sheer desperation — to live outside of conventional social structures and simply be alone.
What constitutes being “alone” can be fuzzy, but it ultimately comes down to the physical and psychological boundaries one draws around oneself. Honjok might partake in leisure activities alone, maintain a single-person household, avoid a workplace or office setting, limit social circles, abstain from sex or romantic relationships, or reject marriage or children. At its core, honjok culture is about resisting South Korea’s establishment society and putting individual needs and desires above loyalty to hierarchy and authority. But living independently doesn’t automatically make someone honjok, and identifying as honjok doesn’t preclude being part of a community — especially when that community is virtual.
Within South Korea’s hyperactive cyberculture of online forums, blogs, and social media, an entire taxonomy has sprung up to classify, in ever greater detail, various honjok identities and activities. Many honjok are honyeo, or solitary women, and some honyeo, like Hye-min, are bihon, meaning they reject marriage and often child-rearing. There are also 4Bs, who take the ethos even further by rejecting sex and romantic relationships. When honjok eat alone, it’s called honbap, and when they drink alone, it’s honsul. They can also play alone (honnol), which might include traveling alone (honhaeng), going to the movies alone (honyeong), or shopping alone (honsho).—Ana Babe, “Tune In, Drop Out.” restoftheworld.org. July 14, 2020.