Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Asia and the "Death by Internet" problem

For most of us the internet plays a huge part in our day to day life, a fact which cannot be denied. A stroll past your university computer centre or any study room on campus will testify to the fact that we need the internet more than ever, and we have access to it on an unprecedented level. Yet, while it can be an invaluable asset to have for communication, learning and leisure, increasingly the bad side effects of internet usage are rearing their ugly head and being noticed on a worldwide scale.

This is apparent no where more than in Asia, a continent where great changes are being brought into place to remedy the problems that are arising with increasing regularity. From what I have seen, Internet Cafes in Ireland are usually a rather run of the mill affair, a few tables, run-down, old computers and invariably uncomfortable chairs usually set the scene quite nicely. It would be fair to say, that in Ireland in 2007 internet cafes do not play a huge role in our day to day life. However in Asia the very opposite is true and China in particular is a perfect example of this where the computer strapped youth depend on the existence of these cafes for access to the internet and indeed the outside world. Shockingly, when you look under the surface, we see an industry rife with mob activity, political unrest and death.
Where as most people in Europe and the US have computers in their home and internet usage to go with it, this is much less the norm in countries such as Korea and China and internet cafes act as a vital link to the World Wide Web. However a bill was passed last month in China banning the start-up of new internet cafes, as the state tries to control a problem that is spiralling out of control.

The first major problem being seen is that the people controlling the internet access are quite dangerous people. Because access to the internet is such a valuable commodity, and such a huge money maker, the mafia has assumed control of many of the internet cafes throughout countries like China and Korea. Recently the Chinese State News agency released reports of an explosion in a packed internet cafe by mafia hit men after protection money due was not payed to them.

The death count does not end there however; there have been numerous examples of people who have died from excessive online gaming. Several young men in the last year have dropped dead at the screen and keyboard as a result of exhaustion.
A prime example is that of 24-year-old Kim Kyung-Jae, who during the Chinese new year celebrations collapsed and died after having played computer games at an internet cafe in the south-western city of Kwangju for an incredible xxxxxxxxx hours without a break.

When you consider Korea is a country where 30% of the under 18 population are registered for online gaming and Asia is a continent where Professional gamers attract huge sums in sponsorship and can make more than $100,000 a year, it is little surprise that there is such great pressure to “train” as hard as possible and spend, at times, unhealthy amounts of time at the computer.
Another amazing example of the power of the internet and gaming on human logic was the baffling case of a Korean couple who left their 4 month old child for more than a day to play the online game “World of Warcraft” and upon returning found that their child was dead.
The couple commented shortly after
“We were thinking of playing for just an hour or two and returning home like usual, but the game took longer that day.”

Along with the new measures brought in to combat unregulated internet cafes, the Chinese government have also brought in eight treatment therapy centers which are run throughout the state almost like a military institutions, in an effort to stem the growing problem and put an end to the addiction. And despite appearances of fun and games, according to psychologist Professor Mark Griffiths, it really is a diagnosable and very real addiction "It does seem to be the case that online gaming addiction for a small minority is a real phenomenon and people suffer the same symptoms as traditional addictions.

These recent moves to regulate internet cafes can be seen under a very different light also, The Chinese government has been notoriously protective of the content its people have access to and indeed release onto the world wide web. The State run media agency has famously forced both Yahoo and Google, the internets two leading search engines, to provide censored versions for use in China. For instance if a search is performed on google.cn under the search term “falun Gong” the search only includes selected pieces of literature denouncing the banned religion. This has also led to a situation where any websites critising the current regime in the country, do not appear on a google or yahoo search at all, causing considerable outrage among proponents of a totally neutral internet, who believe that the World Wide Web should be a place of totally free expression and transmission of content.
The revolution of the blog, which turns any average net user into an online publisher within minutes has caused the Chinese government even more problems, In 2004 the government famously detained Hao Wu a controversial Chinese blogger for two months, until international pressure became to great and he was released. It could be viewed that this regulation of internet cafes and internet to the masses would bring them closer to their goal of control over the media in any form it may take.

It is yet to be seen whether these measures will have an impact on the growing problems, or freedoms of the populace at large, but something needs to be done to stop the bodycount rising and the problem growing. I suggest playing outside in the sun

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