'Web Junkie': Internet addiction a clinical disorder
The documentary 'Web Junkie' highlights China's handling of children diagnosed as 'Internet addicted' through what seem like boot-camp rehabilitation programs. But the issues surrounding the newest clinical disorder highlights attributes of loneliness in children that are not new at all.
Judging by the just-released documentary Web Junkie, about a Chinese “Internet addiction” treatment center, it’s loneliness that’s at the heart of what the Chinese officially call a clinical disorder (more often called “problematic Internet use” in the West).Skip to next paragraph
Anne Collier is editor of NetFamilyNews.org and co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a Web-based interactive forum and information site for teens, parents, educators, and everybody interested in the impact of the social Web on youth and vice versa. She lives in Northern California and has two sons.
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If you can get past the boot-camp-like conditions and young patients’ (inmates’?) tears, you’ll get to a scene – at 4:50 into the 7-min. trailer – that’s just as dramatic but in a different way. The psychiatrist who runs the treatment center, Prof. Tao Ran, who is also a military officer, is talking to patients’ parents, who are encouraged to stay at the center and participate in their children’s treatment.
“One of the biggest issues among these kids is loneliness,” he tells the parents. “Did you know they feel lonely? So where do they look for companions? The Internet. They know the Internet inside and out, but nothing about human beings.”
I was struck by this statement. The treatment explicitly refers to “Internet addiction,” but what it appears to be addressing – based on the patients’ interviews, the footage from "World of Warcraft" and video of kids playing multiplayer online games in Chinese Internet cafes – is much more specific: so-called gaming addiction.
So much of the experience of multiplayer games is interactive and collaborative. It could well be seen as an antidote for loneliness. In saying that these young gamers know “nothing about human beings,” perhaps the professor is saying they know “nothing about human beings” in offline life and relationships because there’s some sort of deficit there.
No siblings, fearful parents
As the film progresses, online magazine Motherboard reports, “we slowly see the value of the treatment as it rebuilds family relationships.” And there’s an important cultural reference that offers context: “The teenagers don’t have any siblings. One boy suggests that it’s [China's] one-child policy that makes them lonely in the first place and drives them to the MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) they compulsively play.” Prof. Tao says to the parents: “Criticizing, accusing and blaming. You think these are the best ways to make them change, reflect and make progress?”