Internet addiction poses a social problem with a new trend, namely with adults being those afflicted. A recent incident in Suzhou, East China's Jiangsu Province, illustrated this situation.
A woman surnamed Zhang went shopping online and spent more than 10,000 yuan ($1,613) during the Singles' Day grand promotion. On November 22, she sat in front of her computer shopping online again while her two-year-old daughter was crying nearby.
Angered by his daughter's fussing, Zhang's husband soundly rebuked his wife for her online addiction and neglecting her family. Zhang fought back, stating she had done nothing wrong but was trying to find deals to save money, while her husband threatened to cut off one of Zhang's fingers each time he saw her shopping online.
Whether he ever intended to make good on his threat became moot as Zhang rushed to the kitchen and chopped off her own left thumb with a knife. Although doctors were able to reattach the digit, the extremes to which Zhang resorted stirred the pot of Internet addiction.
This affliction is beginning to take its toll on ever more people. Students play truant from school. Some even steal to fuel their online gaming or shopping obsessions. Internet cafes have posted up signs forbidding people under 18 from entering, although a quick glance usually finds high school students in there anyway.
But now married adults have joined the ranks of the addicted. Online shopping and pornography can become real drains on finances. Zhang firmly believed she was actually saving time and money. Given the sums and time she wasted in pursuit of the next deal, this seems rather unlikely.
Many adults will read novels, watch films and TV series or play poker and mahjong online. Those Internet users are becoming a new generation of couch potato. Staring at computer screens for too long will harm one's health. To make matters worse, where only children mainly ruin their schoolwork, adults may neglect their families or careers with more lasting consequences.
It is clear that Internet addiction is no longer a small problem, and great importance must be attached to helping those who suffer from it. But as far as curbing it wholesale, self-control and self-discipline are the terms most frequently bandied about. But these are hard to control and there has to be outside support to deal with the issue.
Some departments can learn from the example of tobacco package and advertising. Although China is still doing not enough compared with other countries, it is better to act late than never. Tobacco and Internet addiction cannot be compared across the board, but some tactics are applicable.
What if every time a person logs online, an automatic reminder pops up? The reminder can have slogans urging people to limit their time online, informing them of the side-effects of Internet addiction or narrate some of the worst cases as a warning. As for child users, cartoons could be used as a good alternative to educate them about the possible bad consequences of their actions.
This big social problem needs attention from all sides. We need careful planning to better care for and guide addicted netizens.
The author is an editor with the Global Times. firstname.lastname@example.org