April 23, 2010

South Korea Fighting Internet Addiction

South Korea, widely considered the most wired nation on the planet, is searching for ways to deal with the growing problem of Internet addiction, according to an April 22 Associated Press (AP) report.

Eo Gee-jun, president of the Korea Computer Life Institute, says that 26-percent of teenagers and 30-percent of adults are addicted to online video games. Considering that an estimated nine out of every 10 South Korean homes have broadband Internet access, and that 24-hour Internet cafes are available for those who do not, ease of access is part of the problem.

In March, the government rolled out an education initiative designed to help teach elementary school-age children about health computer usage, and now, the country's Culture Ministry has partnered with major South Korean game developers to block anyone under the age of 18 from playing Internet games between the hours of 12am and 8am.

That program will go into effect later this year, and starting in 2011, free software will be available that will limit access to the Internet, according to AP reporter Sangwon Yoon. All of these measures should help the reportedly 2 million people that have been classified as "Internet addicts" by the South Korean government.

"It's a little ironic that what was invented to make our lives better has come to make it worse for some," Park Hye-kyung, the director of the I Will Center, told Yoon on Thursday. The I Will Center is a government-funded counseling service that was established in December to focus on the growing issue of Internet addiction. The government has earmarked $9 million in funding for such care centers.

"In South Korea it's easier for citizens to play online games than to invest in their offline personal relations through face-to-face conversations," added psychologist Dr. Kim Tae-hoon. "People are becoming growingly numb to human interaction."

Internet addiction is nothing new, nor is it limited to any particular nation or culture. In fact, in 1995, Dr. Ivan Goldberg initially created a description of Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) and petitioned to have it included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). Currently, the condition is not officially classified as a psychological disorder.