Increasing numbers of teenagers in China are being admitted to hospital, suffering from what doctors call ‘Internet Syndrome’. Symptoms include delirium, paranoia and psychosis. Dr. Yu Haiting, the vice president of the No. 8 People’s Hospital in Zhengzhou, says he sees one or two cases per week.
Dr. Yu told Xinhauanet
He cites the case of a 19-year old who, after surfing the next for five to six hours everyday for five years who had come to believe that “invisible pairs of eyes in cyber-space were peeping at him and examining him all the time”.
Yu explains that sufferers are typically having difficulties with social interaction in the real world, and turn to the Net to avoid conflict with friends and family. “To start with, they turn to the virtual world for comfort and gradually become more reluctant to face life," he said.
Dr. Yu advises that teenagers restrict time online to no more than 3 hours per day and that parents spend time talking with their children to encourage them to engage with the real world.
In 2000 the CIA hosted a workshop to discuss the phenomenon of Net addiction, and in the same year, the first global conference on Net Addiction was held in Zurich.
According to US-based organisation Net Addiction, Internet Addiction is a broad term, covering a wide-variety of behaviours and impulse-control problems. It suggests that the comfort of anonymity may be one of the main attractions of life online. Research indicates that most people are less inhibited and more risk-taking if they lack accountability for their actions.
But given the Chinese government's suspicous approach to the Internet, it is impossible to say for certain that this is not being used as another thread in its efforts to discourage Net use. In 2003, laws in China were changed to restrict access to Internet cafes to over 18's. This followed the closure of nearly half such establishments in 2002 and 2003.
According to Amnesty International, 2003 saw a 60 per cent increase in the number of detentions for 'Internet related offenses'. For example, several people have been arrested and detained for posting information online about SARS.
Read more about the freedom on the Chinese Net, or lack of it here. ®