Remember: The Devil likes money more than people's health.
Doctors in South Korea are reporting a surge in "digital dementia" among young people who have become so reliant on electronic devices Photo: Getty Images
By Julian Ryall, Tokyo
8:36AM BST 24 Jun 2013
South Korea is one of the most digitally connected nations in the world and the problem of internet addiction among both adults and children was recognised as far back as the late 1990s.
That is now developing into the early onset of digital dementia – a term coined in South Korea – meaning a deterioration in cognitive abilities that is more commonly seen in people who have suffered a head injury or psychiatric illness.
"Over-use of smartphones and game devices hampers the balanced development of the brain," Byun Gi-won, a doctor at the Balance Brain Centre in Seoul, told the JoongAng Daily newspaper.
"Heavy users are likely to develop the left side of their brains, leaving the right side untapped or underdeveloped," he said.
The right side of the brain is linked with concentration and its failure to develop will affect attention and memory span, which could in as many as 15 per cent of cases lead to the early onset of dementia.
Sufferers are also reported to suffer emotional underdevelopment, with children more at risk than adults because their brains are still growing.
The situation appears to be worsening, doctors report, with the percentage of people aged between 10 and 19 who use their smartphones for more than seven hours every day leaping to 18.4 per cent, an increase of seven per cent from last year.
More than 67 per cent of South Koreans have a smartphone, the highest in the world, with that figure standing at more than 64 per cent in teenagers, up from 21.4 per cent in 2011, according to the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning.
Dr Manfred Spitzer, a German neuroscientist, published a book titled "Digital Dementia" in 2012 that warned parents and teachers of the dangers of allowing children to spend too much time on a laptop, mobile phone or other electronic devices.
Dr Spitzer warned that the deficits in brain development are irreversible and called for digital media to be banned from German classrooms before children become "addicted."
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Internet addiction among kids in Japan is becoming such a big problem that the country is launching Internet fasting camps to wean kids off their smartphones, computer and gaming devices.
Internet fasting camps are being planned by Japan's ministry of education as a solution to the country's problem of web addiction among kids. More than 500,000 Japanese children between the ages of 12 and 18 are believed to be addicted to the Internet.
"It's becoming more and more of a problem," Akifumi Sekine, a spokesperson for the ministry, told the Daily Telegraph. "We estimate this affects around 518,000 children at middle and high schools across Japan, but that figure is rising and there could be far more cases because we don't know about them all."
To combat the problem of web addiction among kids, the ministry is asking the government to fund Internet fasting camps, where children will have no access to the Internet. These immersion programs will be staffed by education experts to help kids overcome their dependency on the virtual world. Kids will be away from their computers, mobile phones and hand-held devices and encouraged to have "real communication with other children and adults".
At the Internet fasting camps, children will be able to take part in outdoor activities, team sports and games. Psychiatrist and clinical psychotherapists will also be on hand to provide counselling for kids who find it especially difficult to part with their computers.
The need for Internet fasting camps is sadly not a trifling matter. Internet addiction is being blamed for the rise of sleep and eating disorders among young people in Japan, while extreme cases have even led to symptoms of depression and deep vein thrombosis. Studies also suggest that a child's performance at school is negatively impacted by too much Internet usage.
Japan is not the only country where Internet fasting camps are needed. Last year, it was reported that South Korea is the world's most wireless nation, and the first to pass 100 percent wireless penetration. That means that for every 100 people living in South Korea, there are 100.6 wireless Internet accounts, bringing its own unique challenges. Internet addiction is seen as a real danger in South Korea. In 2002 and 2005, two young men died after marathon gaming sessions. The country began sponsoring programs to help those suffering from Internet addiction. In 2009, 975,000 people were treated. That same year, a high-profile story involving a married couple so addicted to online gaming they let their infant daughter starve to death shocked the country.
For those in the U.S. suffering from Internet addiction, there is Digital Detox, a tech-free retreat in California where people can go to get away from their smartphones and gadgets.
Would you send your kids to Internet fasting camps? Let us know in the comments.