Korea’s mobile industry has been growing at a dazzling pace on the back of an explosive increase in the number of smartphone users, with Koreans perhaps the fastest adopters of new wireless technologies in the world. As of the end of 2013, about 72 percent of Koreans owned smart devices, compared with the 31.3 percent two years earlier, according to a recent survey by the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning.
The survey, which was conducted on 15,564 users aged between 10 and 54, also highlighted the darker side of being the world’s most wired society. On average, they spent 4.1 hours a day using smartphones, with 11.8 percent falling into the “addiction-risk” group. Excessive smartphone use is feared to have an adverse impact on people’s daily lives and ultimately eat into the country’s economic competitiveness.
What is more worrisome is that the problem is rapidly getting more serious among the younger generation. Over 25 percent of teenagers surveyed showed withdrawal symptoms related to the devices, more than double the 11.4 percent recorded in 2011. In comparison, the portion of adults using smartphones excessively edged up from 7.9 percent to 8.9 percent over the cited period.
The overall number of Koreans at risk of becoming addicted to the Internet has declined, with their portion falling by 0.2 percentage point from the year before to 7 percent in 2013, according to the survey. But the figure for teenagers increased by 1 percentage point to 11.7 percent over the same period.
Prompted by these findings, the ICT Ministry has been stepping up efforts to prevent teenagers from becoming addicted to mobile devices. It plans to announce a set of measures, including implementing mandatory programs to tame the amount of smartphone use at schools and establishing research and counseling centers in major cities across the country. Previous pledges by the government have only been followed by a growth in the number of smartphone-addicted students. It needs to be different this time around.
Smartphone addiction grows more serious and more difficult to cure as students get older, raising the need for prompt action. A survey conducted last year showed that addiction rates rose with age, from 3.7 percent for primary school pupils to 19.8 percent for middle schoolers and further to 23.2 percent for high school students.
Along with the government measures, consistent and effective efforts need to be made by parents to teach children to use smartphones more wisely. It appears that parents buy children expensive mobile devices to help them fit in with their peers and to keep in contact with them. In a sense, teens’ use of smartphones may be inevitable. But parents should talk with children more often and more seriously about the negative impact the excessive use of smartphones can have on mental and physical health and look for ways to spend more family time together.