Singapore is one of the most wired places on earth: our household broadband penetration rate is 105%1 at the end of 2011 (which means on average, there is at least one internet connection per home), and we also have the highest percentage of smart phone users2 in the world, relative to our population. It is a common sight to see people swiping at their mobile devices on buses and trains. From watching videos to playing online games, and even making friends on social networks, many young people in Singapore appear to be living in a 24/7 "always on" world of their own.
Excessive use of the Internet: Can a person really be addicted to it?
The word "addiction" is usually used in relation to a person's abuse of substances, such as drugs or alcohol. But can a person be addicted to the Internet, where no substances are ingested? Early researchers seem to think so3. Parallels have been drawn between "Internet addiction" and "Gambling", where it is suggested that individuals can be addicted to specific behaviours; including the excessive use of the Internet.
What are the activities that one can be addicted to on the Internet?
A longitudinal study conducted in Singapore between 2007 and 2009 found that students were spending as much as 22.5 hours per week playing videogames4. Although the study did not make a distinction between online and offline games, online games - which are persistent worlds - tend to be more time-consuming. Therefore, it is not unusual for gamers to spend huge amounts of time to try and get better in the online games they play. When the game starts to take up a large portion of the gamer's time, thereby affecting their health, hygiene, commitments (e.g. school work) and relationships, it is the start of an addiction.
Internet Pornography Addiction
The topic of sex is often covered under a veil of mystery and youths, being curious, turn to the Internet to search for sex-related information. In a 2009 report released by Symantec, the words "sex" and "porn" were the 4th and 6th most searched words made by youths, between 13 and 18 years old, on the Internet5. When this curiosity begins to fuel a person's motivation, turning it into an obsession, it is the beginning of an addiction. Often times, an addicted person will find themselves unable to control the urge to view pornographic materials, which leads to adverse effects on their daily lives and relationships with others.
Social Networking & Cyber Relationships Addiction
Social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Foursquare, are platforms that facilitate online connections between people. While there are benefits of maintaining online contact with friends whom we know offline, it is possible to spend too much time checking for status updates or having the urge to post every minute detail about one's life. This could lead to issues like over-sharing of information and loss of privacy.
As social networks increase in popularity and usage, some people, especially those who are more introverted by nature, may find it easier to make friends behind the safety of the computer. They may fall into the habit of spending too much time on chat rooms, instant messaging services or dating websites, just to maintain a relationship, to the detriment of forming relationships in the real world.
What are the signs of a person with "Internet Addiction"?
The research into "Internet Addiction" is still on-going, but common signs to watch out for include:
- Losing track of time - Using the Internet longer than intended
- Feeling irritable when disrupted
- Feelings of guilt - Especially when family members nag at the excessive use
- Isolation from offline or real relationships - Family and friends
- Physical signs - Exhaustion due to neglect of sleep, dry eyes, weight gain
What can be done to help overcome the excessive use of the Internet?
- Develop other interests outside of the Internet world, e.g. play sports, take up art or dancing, etc.
- Limit the time spent online - for example, only 30 minutes a day on gaming, and 30 minutes on social networking
- Get support from family and friends to stay connected with the real world
- Use the Internet as a tool rather than an escape measure from the real world
- Face up to the problem and seek professional help