Untangling a wired addiction

South Korea is conducting special classes to help its young people break away from their over-reliance of smartphones and all things digital.

SHE pulls no punches as she warns a classroom of wide-eyed South Korean 10-year-olds that they stand on the edge of an addiction that will turn them all into “mindless slaves”.

Social campaigner Kim Nam-Hee’s grim presentation follows a survey with the title:”Who’s your real family?” The survey asked the students to compare the hours they spent on their smartphones with the time they spent interacting with relatives.

South Korea’s pride in its high-tech prowess, from ultra-fast broadband speeds to its own cutting-edge smartphones, is now tinged by anxiety over digital addiction — with even preschool children showing symptoms of IT obsession.

The country has long promoted Internet technology as a key driver of growth, and its capital Seoul is often referred to as the “most wired” city on the planet.

About 70% of South Korea’s 50 million people have smartphones — the highest penetration rate in the world, according to the market research firm eMarket.

But the country’s fixation with everything digital has parents worried about its impact on young people especially children, many of whom are not even of preschool age.

Worrying issue

The concern is shared by those in other advanced economies, but the South Korean government has gone furthest in its response.

“We felt an urgent need to make a sweeping effort to tackle the growing danger of online addiction, especially given the popularity of smart devices,” the science ministry said when it announced a policy package on June 13.

The initiative, organised in conjunction with the health and education ministries, requires schools to teach special classes on Internet addiction and organise holiday “boot camps” to wean students off their dependency.

According to government data, more than 80% of South Koreans aged between 12 and 19 owned smartphones in 2012, which was double the figure from the previous year.

Nearly 40% of those in this age group spent more than three hours a day tweeting, chatting, or playing games — despite attempts by teachers to confiscate all devices at the beginning of the day, and return them when classes were over.

An annual government survey estimated that nearly 20% of teenagers were “addicted” to smartphones.

Addiction was defined by certain criteria which included anxiety and depression when separated from a smartphone, a repeated failure to cut back on usage time, and feeling happier using smartphones than being with family or friends.

The problem is not exclusive to teenagers, and the government’s education policy targets primary schools and even preschoolers.

by Jung Ha Won.

Read more @ http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Education/2013/08/11/Untangling-a-wired-addiction.aspx

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