Most people will admit to spending more time than they should using the internet or playing with their phone. No matter where you go in Asia, people have their heads buried in a virtual world, even when out socialising with friends. I have seen couples on a romantic dinner for two ignoring each other and talking to their virtual friends on their smart phones. It is common to see groups of friends on a night out with every single one of them using their phone the whole time! Why are people so eager to be a part of this virtual world and what has happened to relationships in the real world?
Internet addiction is a growing problem, especially in Asia
It is fair to say that most of us wouldn’t consider our time spent in the digital world as being a serious problem – certainly not one that would allow us to be called addicts. For a growing number of people it has become a serious issue that can have some really bad outcomes, especially amongst the younger generation who have grown up in this digital age of internet and games consoles.
In a remarkable study in 2013 carried out in Japan, of 2,600 young adults who were analysed, 60% shows signs that were suggestive of a digital addiction. The exact criteria used to measure this government led study is not know in its entirety but it certainly suggests a growing problem that looks likely to continue as the world becomes more connected to online services.
Specialist clinics have now cropped up around Asia to treat internet addictions with centres opening up in Korea, Taiwan, Japan and China. In China, Internet addiction is seen as a major problem for adolescents and is treated as a clinical disorder resulting in China having about 250 ‘healing’ centres focused on treating addictions to gaming and the internet.
The effects of internet addiction
Internet and gaming addiction can result in personal, family, occupational, and financial problems – similar to those seen in people who are affected by other addictions. Research by the Shanghai Mental Health Centre has looked at brain scans and the effect of technology addictions. It shows neurological changes comparable to those seen in brain scans where the person has a dependency to cocaine or alcohol. Research also suggests that teens are more likely to be addicted to the internet when they suffer from physical phobias or have been diagnosed with ADHD.
Internet users can develop emotional attachments to friends online and activities they pursue with their computer. Where an addiction is present, the desire that someone feels to continue a destructive behaviour that is consuming their life may be born out of the fact that connecting with people on the internet is something that they cannot achieve in real-life. The virtual world may therefore be a replacement to their perceived social failures. Excessive internet use also affects relationships as it often goes hand-in-hand with reduced exposure to people and friends due to solitary confinement.
Signs of Internet addiction can include:
- Falling behind with daily tasks
- A decrease in academic performance
- Spending excessive time online
- Becoming isolated from family and friends
- Experiencing a ‘high’ from using the internet
- A false perception of time spent online
There are mixed views among addiction professionals as to whether internet addiction can really fall under the same class as other addictions but the psychological effects of ‘digital disorders’ can be compared to the reward triggers seen from addictions to substances. Professionals in treating internet addictions say a significant part of it is born out of loneliness and having too much free time. With high speed internet connectivity and a social culture that accepts this unsociable behaviour, the rise of internet and gaming addictions seems set to continue.