Browsing is okay. But, being an Internet junkie can cause serious repercussions, says K. JESHI
It is a new fixation — wandering aimlessly on the Net. They check mails every 10 minutes, run a Google search for nothing, move from one website link to another link, build online relationships and participate in purposeless online auctions. They don’t mind skipping meals, but missing the regular dose of ‘Internet fix’ is unthinkable.
Meet the ‘Internet junkies’. The sights and sounds of the virtual world may give them a high, but they also warp their mental and physical health, leading to serious problems in real life situations. A drop in academic grades and poor social skills are just a couple of them.
“When a new habit becomes an addiction, it has to be either a ‘good habit’ or ‘junk’. Internet addiction falls in the second category. It’s vagabond behaviour on the Net,” says V. Murali, vice-president of K7 Computing that specialises in information security products such as anti-virus.
Though people of all ages get attracted to the Internet, adolescents are especially vulnerable.
“For school and college-goers, the responsibility is studies. They don’t have to earn a livelihood, so they go online just to kill time. When this attraction goes beyond reasonable limits, it turns into compulsive behaviour and they become addicts,” says Murali.
Initially, it is chatting, social networking and online gaming that keep them hooked.
“The thrill of chatting with anonymous people gives them a sense of adventure. And it goes on till the wee hours of the morning,” he adds.
Complications begin when it becomes an addiction. Dealing with conflicts and happiness in reality become difficult.
“Most teenagers embrace the Internet, because it allows them to hide behind an online identity. They don’t have to face the bullying, the anger, the insults and the humiliation of a physical interaction. But, the biggest damage is that they lose their ability to grow as individuals and there’s a huge chance of them losing touch with reality. It doesn’t allow them to develop their personality traits,” says Srikiran Raghavan, regional head, RSA Security Division.
Long hours of browsing without focus also slows down their Plan activities outside the computer Cultivate reading habits Take part in sports Listen to music Be focussed while surfing Socialise physiological functions. Their social skills come down drastically. Inter-personal relationships suffer because of lack of self-confidence.
“They tend to develop a superiority complex and getting along with peer groups becomes difficult. The false sense of courage on the virtual world snowballs and they become fragmented personalities. They find it difficult to handle real-life crisis situations. Their performance in academics and other extra-curricular activities slackens,” says psychiatrist Ponni Muralidharan.
Why is the Internet so attractive to youngsters? “It gives them a sense of authority. But, the activity stimulates just the visual area of the brain and results in ‘warped growth’, as other physiology developments such as touching, hearing and feeling are not commensurate with this,” she adds.
Youngsters also become easy victims in online relationships. “ That’s because people live their alter egos. In real life, they might be married, but from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. they may have the identity of a ‘19-year-old from Florida’,” Srikiran explains.
Some of them end up becoming ‘script kiddies’ — inexperienced malicious crackers who use programmes developed by others to attack computer systems, and deface websites and servers of corporate houses. “The script kiddies are tempted to download software without understanding the extent of damage it can cause,” he adds.
K. Srinivasan, co-founder of Cyber Society of India, refers to the recent murder of a 16-year-old in Mumbai.
“A group of men used the identity of a girl to dupe the teenager. They attempted a kidnap, panicked when they saw the police and killed the boy.”
He says educating youngsters on the positive aspects of the Internet is a good way to begin. “At the school level, teachers can ask them to get data on topics such as diverse as nanotechnology, rope cars or nuclear agreements, to draw their attention to the positive aspects,” he suggests.
“In big cities, statements such as ‘my son spends eight hours in front of the computer’ have become common and acceptable. Allowing children unlimited access to the Net makes it possible for them to pursue their own social life. But, parents need to manage and monitor activities, when children start accessing the Internet excessively,” says Srikiran.Break the habit
Plan activities outside the computer
Cultivate the reading habit
Take part in sports
Listen to music
Be focussed while surfing