The South Korean government has "classified" some two million of its citizen's as "Internet addicts" who exhibit many of the same symptoms and patterns of behaviour as those dependent on drugs. Martyn Warwick reports.
South Korea has one of the most modern and easily and cheaply available high-speed Internet access networks on the planet and almost all homes and business premises are wired - as, in a rather different way, are two million of Korea's population of 50 million.
Dr. Kim Tae-Hoon, a respected Korean psychiatrist, says that whilst Internet addiction may not yet be categorised as a "medical condition" or "psychiatric disorder" it is a common and recognisable symptom of "serious underlying mental disorders such as attention deficit syndrome and clinical depression."
Dr. Kim believes that the Internet is too readily and cheaply available in South Korea where some 93 per cent of homes a have high-speed broadband access. He adds that the proliferation of "PC Rooms" (as Internet cafes are called in South Korea), open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and offering cheap multi-player gaming facilities are making matters worse for the growing number of web addicts.
He says, "Here in South Korea it's easier for citizens to play online games than to invest in their offline personal relations through face-to-face conversations.
the result is that people are becoming insular and are growingly psychologically numb to real human interaction."
According to Eo Gee-Jun, the president of the Korea Computer Life Institute, 30 per cent of adults and 26 per cent of teenagers are online addicts, whilst the Ministry of Culture is working with the country's big online gaming companies to implement a "late-night closedown" when users under the age of 18 will find their access to three of the biggest and most popular Internet games will be blocked between midnight and eight in the morning.
The Ministry of Culture has been given 10 billion won (about US$9 million) to spend on educating the public about the dangers of Internet addiction. it is also pressing games providers to monitor the age of players via national ID card numbers.
A spokesperson at the Ministry said, that while the government knows about and wants to help solve the growing problem, nothing much will be achieved without the co-operation of the public, particularly in terms of watching and monitoring children and teenagers for signs of Internet addiction.
Meanwhile, the Korean media is full of lurid stories about the worst effects of the condition. For example, last month a young couple were found by police to have let their real, living and breathing their 3-month-old baby starve because they were spending 16 hours a day in an Internet cafe raising a electronic avatar from childhood to adultj hood. When arrested for gross child negligence they explained that its was "easier and more fun" bringing up the virtual child than tending to the real one that "cried a lot and made a mess."
And, a month earlier a 22-year-old man who refused to find a job and spent 18-hours a day gaming online, beat his mother to death for "nagging him about playing online all the time." He then left her corpse on the floor of the flat they shared and continued to play using his dead mother's credit card to pay for yet more gaming. He was caught only when he ran out of credit and tried to borrow money from neighbours who became suspicious and called the police.
please sign in to rate this article