Smartphones fuel Internet addiction
The smartphone joins the heart, brain, lungs and so on as an additional organ – external instead of internal. Smartphones are part of us, an increasingly inseparable part. We can’t take our eyes off them. In 2011, 18 people – up from 11 in 2010 – are known to have fallen off train station platforms while absorbed in smartphones. Earlier this month, a smartphone user in his 40s was killed in Tokyo by a train he hadn’t seen coming. Trains are big, loud and hard to miss – even, normally, when our thoughts are elsewhere. What is going on here?
Internet addiction became news in August when a health ministry report estimated 8% of high school students showed symptoms of it. A corresponding figure for adults is 2%. Conclusion: it’s a juvenile problem rather than an adult problem. Right? Wrong, says Shukan Asahi (Nov 1).
The smartphone is the tightest link yet to cyberspace. “It’s with us on the street, in the toilet, in the bath,” the magazine hears from Doshisha University media studies professor Junichi Nakajima. As for addiction, “if you think you can simply quit anytime, you’re mistaken.”
“It’s not just the amount of time you spend online,” says Dr Takashi Sumioka, whose clinic specializes in smartphone addiction. “It’s when you lose conscious control of your (smartphone) use that the word ‘addiction’ properly applies.”
What does “losing control” mean? There’s no clear line between healthy use and addictive use, of course, but radically out-of-character behavior is a key symptom, says Miki Endo, director of Angel’s Eye, a private foundation dedicated to preventing excessive Internet dependency. A formerly conscientious employee so wrapped up in online gaming he or she (usually he) starts taking unauthorized time off work, or a normally family-oriented man (or woman) immersed in online romance, might fairly be called addicted.
Experts identify two broad categories: social network site addiction, and game addiction. Women dominate the first, men the second. Young mothers are particularly apt to get sucked into networking sites. Alone all day with small children, exhausted and frustrated, they seek emotional support online, and find it. The relief of sharing troubles you formerly endured alone can be so exhilarating, Shukan Asahi says, that you altogether forget the prime source of the troubles – namely the little tot clamoring for, and not getting, your attention. And if you happen to meet a man at one of those sites – well, that’s nice too, a dash of spice in a life that had begun to grow stale.
Male addicts are mainly gamers. The magazine introduces a 39-year-old Tokyo company employee whose gaming started off moderately but now eats up 8 hours of an average day. It’s cut into his work and into his sleep. The games are a world in themselves. He has an online lover and online friends. “I’m not all that good-looking and was never much for socializing,” he confides. “In ‘real society’ I didn’t get much in the way of love or worldly success. But in the ‘game world’ the women like me. I get respect from my friends. It’s nice.”
Still: “Have you ever thought you might want to quit gaming?” he is asked.
“Of course,” he answers. “It would be better to have a cute real-world girlfriend and real-world friends. But quitting isn’t so easy. I’d be letting down my online girlfriend and buddies.”