A recent story illustrated the problem in a dramatic fashion. On January 30, 2015, a 19-year-old man from the city of Nantong in Jiangsu province in eastern China took the drastic step of cutting off his left hand in order to free himself from his admitted Internet addiction. Reports state that Wang Liang (alias) often missed classes to surf the Internet, and on the night of the incident left home at 10 p.m. with a kitchen knife to perform the deed. Taken to the hospital shortly afterward, medical staff were successful in reattaching the hand, but the physical healing process will take some time, and the much more needed mental and psychological healing of the young man will take longer.
The most populous country in the world also lays claim to the largest number of Internet users: 649 million, according to the government-run China Internet Network Information Center. Of these, 557 million use the Internet on mobile devices, another world record. Tao Ran, a Chinese army psychologist who runs a rehab center for Internet addiction in Beijing, estimates that 24 million youth are addicted to online games, a number he claims is continuously rising.
Sadly, this widespread phenomenon of addiction is not limited to the Chinese. According to a recent study, Internet addiction affects more than 400 million people worldwide.
The Internet: A Cruel Master
The benefits of the Internet usage abound for millions of users. Vast amounts of information in the form of text, audio and video are readily available with a few keystrokes or clicks of the mouse. There is also the ability to interact with thousands of people simultaneously via social networks and online games. The Internet is a formidable tool, to be certain, and one that observers have seen is increasingly difficult to control. With the rise of smart phones and other mobile devices, the temptation to instant gratification is indeed difficult for many to resist.
In Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society, author John Horvat II rightly points out a modern frustration with technology, Internet included of course, which leads to the trivialization of our time: “Within this paradox where we have no time yet waste so much time, we experience boredom, exhaustion, and psychological stress that leads so many to conclude that there is nothing beyond the aimless flux of immediate experience.”1 This immediate experience becomes the end in itself, and, with the growing prevalence of smart phones, is becoming omnipresent. As a result, one should wonder why Internet addiction and all its associated ills have not become more commonplace.
When any technology, be it the Internet, video games, television, etc., becomes the end in itself rather than the means to an end, a process of losing control begins which leads to a distorted sense of reality. Family members become strangers in their own homes, communities become disconnected and unwelcoming, and a malaise hangs over society as a whole. For there to be a lasting solution for China and the rest of the world, great efforts must be made to rein in the modern intemperate spirit which throws off all restraint and seeks a constant stream of endless entertainments.
As with any addiction, one must admit there is a problem and resolve to stop. But the path does not end there: the way forward must bypass the shallowness of instant gratification and seek the lasting remedies of faith, family and community.
The long road to recovery for our over-stimulated culture must lead ultimately to the sublime in which the human soul finds its true fulfillment. Otherwise, the cycle repeats itself by exchanging one cruel master for another.
1 Horvat II, John. “The Abuse of Technology,” Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need to Go (York, Penn.: York Press, 2013), p. 68.