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Hooked on the World Wide Web

Internet addiction is alarmingly on the rise, according to the city’s mental health professionals. People are seeking help to get over their obsession with the cyber world, writes Manoj Sharma.

india Updated: Aug 05, 2007, 12:41 IST
Manoj Sharma
Manoj Sharma
Hindustan Times

Internet addiction is alarmingly on the rise, according to the city’s mental health professionals. An increasing number of people are seeking help to get over their obsession with the cyber world. These are not only children and adolescents, but also middle- aged people who are addicted to various social networking, gambling, gaming and pornographic websites.

Psychiatrists believe the increasing obsession with the online world is talking a heavy toll on the social and personal life as well as mental health of people. Says Aruna Broota, a leading Delhi-based clinical psychologist, “Over the past two years, the number of parents seeking advice on how to end their children’s Net addiction have increased. These children and adolescents are hooked on to Orkut and various porn sites for six to eight hours. It’s high time Internet fixation is treated as a disease in the country, like alcohol and drug addiction. I believe we now need Internet de-addiction centres.”

She may not be exaggerating! There are an estimated 50 million Internet uses in India. In fact, India boasts of being the fifth country in terms of the number of Internet users. Says Samir Parikh, a clinical psychiatrist with Max Healthcare, “In the past couple of years I have had a large number of people seeking advice on how to get over their fixation with the cyber world. The maximum number of cases relate to obsession with pornographic websites, a condition which is referred to as computer scotologia.” Adds Broota, “Recently, I had this case of a 14- year- old boy who was hooked to pornographic sites and used to masturbate without bothering to close the doors of his room.”

The increasing online frenzy has raised fears of a growing population of Internet addicts in India. China, where this addiction has become a serious issue, has over 2 million teenage addicts, according to China’s Internet Addiction Treatment Centre (IATC). Alarmed by the increasing number of Internet-related suicides of youngsters, the government has officially started Internet addiction clinics. Recently, IIT Bombay banned Internet in many of its hostels from 11.30pm to 12.30 pm, because a large number of students had become addicted to gaming, blogging, file-sharing and online movies and showed up late for classes. So, is Net addiction more among techies? Says Rupa Murghai, a counsellor with IIT Delhi, “It is a countrywide phenomenon that has been fostered by the growing number of cyber cafes. It affects people of all age groups and all kinds of backgrounds. It is the favourite pastime of an increasingly number of people.”

What exactly is Internet addiction and what are its symptoms? Internet addiction is not about long hours spent on the Net, but a compulsive desire to log on without any purpose. “It’s purposeless surfing of the Net which adversely affects a person’s personal, professional and social life,” says Sanjeeta Kundu, consultant clinical psychologist with Max Healthcare.

According to Parikh, people with fixation on the Net tend to get restless when they have no access to it and they have this compelling desire to use the Net without any necessity. “I just cannot do without the net. I feel empty and bored and restless if I do not spend time on the Net,” says Rohit Sharma (name changed), a young lawyer whose day begins with a journey into the cyber world. He now wishes to seek professional help to get over his obsession.

“One of the reasons for the youngsters’ increasing obsession with the cyber world is that it provides them a global social milieu where they are forging all sorts of relationships. It allows them to express emotions and feelings in a way they cannot do in real life. So the Net has a cathartic value’, says Jitendra Nagpal, a leading consultant psychiatrist.

According to experts, symptoms of Internet addiction include a disregard for health, insomnia, lack of physical activity and declining desire for social interaction. It is resulting in strained relationships, as those hooked on to the Internet tend to ignore their family and friends. “These days many youngsters travelling on trains are so busy with their laptops that they do not have time to look at people sitting next to them throughout the journey. I have had worried parents of children living in college hostels who are online for as many as eight hours when they come home during vacations. The laptop is their constant companion. This is nothing but a sign of addictive behaviour,” says Broota.

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