Along with the benefits it has brought, Korea’s advanced high-speed communication network has also led to Internet addiction.
After a years-long struggle, however, Korea may be finding a way out of the dilemma and possibly even advise other countries that have recently had to face the issue.
In recent years, crimes or accidents related to Internet addiction have alarmed Korean society.
On Friday, the Suwon District Court sentenced a couple to a two-year jail term for negligence after their 3-month-old daughter starved to death, said court officials.
The 41-year-old husband and 25-year-old wife were both addicted to an online role playing game in which they, ironically, raised the virtual character of a young girl, according to officials.
The court, however, suspended the sentence for the wife as she is pregnant once again, expecting a second child this August.
A 22-year-old man was caught and indicted in February for murdering his mother because she continuously nagged him for spending too much time and energy playing games. After his crime, the man headed to a nearby Internet cafe and continued playing, said officials.
Also, a worker in his 30s died of exhaustion in a Seoul Internet cafe after spending five consecutive days playing games.
|Senior citizens take a test on their Internet skills in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, last week. Yonhap News|
The sales level at Internet cafes reached 490 billion won ($428 million) last year, according to Health Ministry data. Crimes rooted in Internet addiction also soared, costing the government 97 billion won.
The teen and pre-teen generations were apparently the most affected.
Some 12.8 percent of Korean teenagers were shown to be addicted to the Internet, according to the 2009 research by the Ministry of Public Administration and Security.
The figure was twice that of the 6.4 percent rate shown in the adult group.
Also, the addiction rate rose in the pre-teen primary school student age group, despite the general fall in other age groups, indicating that the symptoms are reaching the younger generation.
MOPAS in March vowed to reduce the Internet addiction rate for all age groups to less than 5 percent by 2012.
A total of 335,570 cases on Internet addition were filed with the Korean Youth Consulting Institute last year, a 78 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family earlier this month.
The number of registered cases has risen from 29,784 in 2005, 65,786 in 2006 and to 158,997 in 2007.
The ministry and the KYCI thus reinforced the Internet Rescue School, which kicked off back in 2007 for the rising teen population of Internet addicts.
The 12-day program involved 76 students and four sessions last year and is to be expanded to 168 students in seven sessions this year, said officials.
This year will also include female students, who in the past were considered a minority group in the issue of Internet game addiction.
Korea’s lead in Internet addiction figures has also led the country to develop an edge in treating the problem.
The German press has recently requested to cover the Internet Rescue School, according to the KYCI.
“A few years back, Internet game addiction was largely considered a Korean issue and the issue triggered little interest in German society,” said an official of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.
However, other countries started benchmarking the Korean rescue school model as addiction took over the youths all around the world, he said.
“Korea’s advanced Internet development pushed us to experience and respond to the issue ahead of other countries,” he said.
“We have thus become a model in the field.”
Government-affiliated institutes and private organizations are rushing to develop new advanced systems for treatment.
Soongsil University has recently developed an artificial intelligence system to diagnose and prescribe a relevant remedy to Internet addiction, school officials said last week.
The Expert System for Prevention of Internet Addiction, known as the XPIA, is to analyze the category and degree of the subject’s addiction, with approximately 90 percent accuracy.
“The treatment programs, however, mainly involve young students, largely neglecting the adult groups,” said an IARC official.
The group of people in their 30s also showed a slight rise in Internet addiction rate, especially as a growing number of them remain unemployed during the continuing job shortage, the official said.
As the Internet addiction issue disturbs education offices and parents, some lawmakers and election candidates have made the issue their major concern.
Rep. Lee Joung-sun of the ruling Grand National Party submitted earlier this month a bill restricting the hours offered to online game users. The game industry protested, fearing profit losses.
Other bills are presently pending in the National Assembly, suggesting restrictions on teenagers’ use of Internet cafes and games.
Also, two of the candidates running in the educational superintendent election this Wednesday have slogans on the prevention of game addiction.
Internet game addiction has become as critical an issue as excessive private education or rampant school violence, they said.
“As a parent of two primary school children, both of them who seriously indulge in computer games, I feel that such policies to curb teenage Internet addiction are crucial factors in public education,” said Lee Jin-ah, a 43-year-old mother in Seoul.
By Bae Hyun-jung (firstname.lastname@example.org)