Need for Policy Level Intervention to Arrest the Internet Addiction Pandemic
Most scientific technologies can be double edged swords. They can be used, misused and even abused. Two easily understandable examples follow. The ability to synthesise chemicals not only helps making medical drugs to treat symptoms but also to make intoxicants and hallucinogens that are detrimental to the well-being of the individual and the society. Motor vehicles, while reducing commute duration, cause high levels of pollution both as exhaust effluents as well as during their manufacturing processes. Such examples can be found in plenty in practically every field that uses scientific technology.
Since this truth was well-known to our rishis in the past, much of the technological knowledge was kept within closed societies. These societies functioned such that knowledge was passed on only to the most deserving; the superior the technology, the greater the qualities expected to be deserving. To a significant extent, this curbed the misuse of technology. In his seminal work, ‘The Beautiful Tree’ Dharampal talks of the closed nature of some communities when it came to sharing of traditional knowledge. The author, in another equally important book, ‘Science and Technology in the 18th Century’ writes of a community that were custodians of the knowledge of metallurgy, especially steel manufacturing. The product made by the community that lived in Salem was unparalleled in excellence and was exported to manufacture the world famous ‘Damascus sword’. Only members belonging to the community were allowed to learn the technology that they had. Outsiders were not allowed. If someone from the community was suspected to have shared their knowledge to outsiders, the consequences were dire. The British attempted to somehow learn their technology to manufacture steel but failed.
Technological growth in recent decades has been tremendous and continues at a pace that was perhaps never witnessed in history before. The discovery and management of electricity defined the way man functions beyond the dictates of nature. This, again, is double-edged as people tend to live as if they are beyond evolutionary abilities.
To add to this is the advent of the internet which has now pervaded all available space in all spheres. Nobody needs to emphasise that the use of the internet is endless. At the same time, the harm it causes, if left unchecked, seems to be just as endless. With gaming, OTT platforms, videos, social networking and social media becoming the way to spend the day for more and more people, the internet is turning out to be like Frankenstein’s creature. Children are hooked to videos, teens and young adults to online games and social networking and people in practically all age groups to OTT.
The harm that the internet has been causing seems like we are merely witnessing the tip of the iceberg and this is alarming, mildly stated. As a start, individuals are unable to fulfil their responsibilities due to too much time being hogged by idle internet time. Mothers are neglecting children, fathers are unable to cope with family demands, grandparents do not spend quality time with grandchildren and so on.
Most people are aware that spending unproductive time on the internet is not advisable and yet they are drawn to it. The guilt of binging on internet content makes people secretive. In many cases, especially among the young, there is a false feeling of intimacy with online acquaintances than with the real people in their lives. All these cause interpersonal relationships to suffer. Family life becomes tedious and less joyful.
Further, at the mental level, there is a drop in focus, there is lesser patience, even lesser perseverance. Shorts and reels seem to be the way of conveying messages to people. ‘People’ here includes members of all kinds of categories: across age, gender, economic strata, everybody!
The body suffers as sleep times are pushed farther and farther into the night and waking up is similarly pushed away from sunrise. Going against the evolutionary design of nature, general health suffers. Memory loss is common due to lack of sleep when the individual is forced to wake up to fulfil their obligations and responsibilities. Since a lot of time is lost, food is often not home cooked and there is no time to exercise. With the compromise on all the 3 key factors that define lifestyle – rest, food, exercise - individuals barely have a life worth living!
This addiction has surpassed all forms of pandemics that have ever been witnessed on earth. In this case, the casualty takes place even as the individual is breathing, walking and talking! The casualty is life itself and this is a very tragic situation to be in. Despite the awareness that is there, a big number of parents face situations where they are unable to control their children beyond a point; in other cases, spouses are uncontrollable and in yet other cases, the grandparents become the ones to blame!
The approach to this must be multi-pronged if expected results are to be obtained. Of course, awareness at the individual and family level must be enhanced and reiterated. Beyond this, there must also be certain policy level intervention if we are to see some control on this social pandemic.
Vaccine 1st dose: Re-design phones and the way children below the age of 18 access the internet. The phones must permit parents and law makers to “watch” the children with legal consequences for both parents and children for violation.
Vaccine 2nd dose: Impose tax on all forms of internet content that do not require the active intelligence of the consumer (videos, songs, games, OTT, etc.)
Vaccine booster dose: Make phone data more expensive if SIM is used via smartphones.
NOTE: The above suggestions are from a mandal discussion held by concerned people who are watching a significant number of people in society tragically sink down in their abilities due to this problem. There could be better ways to curb this menace in a more effective way if social psychologists, technology experts and policy makers put their heads together for the benefit of society. Hoping for this to happen fast.