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October 18, 2018

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Living in the iron grip of our mobile devices

With children today growing up in a virtual world that seems much more fascinating than the real one, few parents are unconcerned by such a pervasive addiction.

And addiction it certainly is.

It can so interfere with a child’s real world experiences that there are reports that they can grow mutinous, even bloodthirsty, when deprived of their gizmos.

On August 30, when a 13-year-old in Nantong, Jiangsu Province, fell to his death, his mother blamed a videogame. Police did not rule out the possibility that his death was the result of imitation of online behavior, from a failure to tell the virtual world from the real one. This was not the first such fatal leap in recent years and will probably not be the last.

Adults are always ready to moralize on teenage behavior, but they are more ambivalent about their own addiction to e-gadgets. Perhaps age is an extenuating circumstance. While adults are entitled to some presumption of mental maturity, there is mounting evidence suggesting that they are far from free from the iron grip of the mobile device.

One of the strongest objections to childhood obsession with cyberspace is that their schoolwork will suffer.

That being the case, the corollary is that if an adult is likewise mesmerized by the changing colors of pixels on a tiny screen, some aspects of their adult life will surely be similarly compromised — work, social life, their families, healthy living?

Depending on the nature of their employment, such addiction could be disastrous. We all know people who almost live in the virtual world — whether riding the subway, walking to work, eating lunch or even driving. In July in Dalian, Liaoning Province, a taxi driver pulled over to resume an important videogame. “Let me finish this game first. It’s competitive,” he reportedly told his passenger.

On October 9, police in Wujiang, Jiangsu Province, fined a driver they caught playing games while driving.

I had a similar experience this Monday. While travelling on a bus, at the first sight of a red light at an intersection in Lujiazui, the bus driver whipped out a mobile phone and resumed a game. He stole glances at the red light from time to time, but did not stop the game until the vehicle right in front him began to move. Then one of his feet stepped on the throttle, while both his hands were still holding the mobile phone.

In South Korea a few years ago, a 22-year-old man played videogames in an Internet café for more than a week. When he returned home, he found his son dead from starvation.

An addicted man-boy, like an adolescent, is eminently ill-equipped to tackle real-world challenges. In a similar vein, compared with the brave new world behind the screen, the real world is boring, hard to deal with, and even intimidating. In the fantasy of the virtual world, every loser can hack his way to victory, glory and adoration. These adults, if such they be, are as newborns when faced with the myriad of real-world consequences.

I have observed that a huge number of criminal suspects are apprehended at Internet cafes. Considering how the average adults indulge themselves in cyber-fantasies even in public, you could well conjecture how they conduct themselves in the comfort of their homes.

The cyberworld is the source of all fun, laughter, amusement. As fun is all-redeeming, all-justifying, we can easily imagine parents spending hours on their mobile phone, while next room their daughter is puzzling over her homework, likely with the solace that one day she too will grow up.

When everyone’s noses are buried in their phones, the few who remain sensitive to reality will appear queer, and perhaps even be marginalized. On the other hand, in the kingdom of the blind a one-eyed man is king.

The double standards we have adopted with respect to cyberspace addiction are deeply disturbing. As parents we are role models for our children, yet many of us no longer care about the moral implications of parenthood.


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