Imagine women who are alone and divorced, depressed by their loss of work, that spend their days in front of the computer, teenagers lost for hours behind their game consoles, and out of class university students who are seeking a thrill from the risks offered by online poker.
Think also of dynamic managers who can’t manage to detach themselves, even for a moment, from their Blackberry, and of young people whose frenzy to immortalize themselves on social media with their latest selfie from the living room is completely out of control. Raise your hand, whoever has never seen a table of teenagers at a local venue become prisoners to their smartphones, anxious every minute to monitor the arrival of news on Facebook and Whatsapp. Their eyes and hands move in unison in the frenzy of waiting for the arrival of a new message.
No, this isn’t a crazy and surreal plot for the next Christmas movie, but rather the troubling picture that emerges from the latest report given by Aiart—the Italian Association of Radio and Television Consumers—that recently performed a study to determine Italy’s dependence on the internet. Sure enough, as may be expected, it sounded the bell of social alarm, perhaps louder and more strident than ever.
Beyond individual cases of people who are emotionally fragile or in social difficulty, the data emerging shows an exponential growth, at the statistical level, of the pathological use of the internet, even among so-called normal people, or to be clear, people who have not suffered particularly devastating life traumas. This alarming phenomenon, which is most evident among young people, is characterized by addiction and behavioral problems.
The survey examined 61 cases in 34 Italian provinces. Statistically speaking, these are not huge numbers. They are large enough to raise an alarm for this new pathology however, called Internet Addiction Disorder, which is unknown to most people today. As we have seen, it shows itself in varied ways: from poker dependency to the compulsive and anxious checking of e-mail, messages, and chats. The problem deepens since often people are not aware of being internet-dependent. Of course there is no need to throw a dark and apocalyptic light on the web and new technology in general, since it brings so many good and useful things to our society. Defeatist or catastrophic attitudes concerning social media or virtual relationships would be neither fair nor desirable. They would instead represent an attempt to return to the Stone Age. Surely a greater control of this means is a far more forward-looking attitude to adopt.
What is worth reminding ourselves is that the web should be at our service, and not the other way around. Otherwise we risk losing control of our reason and emotions and become overwhelmed. For this reason, as Aiart shows, the dangers of Internet should not be overlooked. In the presentation of their report, which was held in Rome on November 6, Vincenzo Lorenzo Pascali, a teacher at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, affirmed that behavioral addictions have effects that are very similar to those caused by drugs. Both are characterized by a dissociative experience. Just like every situation involving strong addiction, it would be desirable for Internet addiction to be treated as a real illness by the national health care system, even though there is not yet a cultural awareness of the problem or specialists who can treat it.
As Luca Borgomeo, President of Aiart, declared in his presentation, we are finding ourselves confronted with new difficulties, before which—we must admit—we are not yet prepared to face. Schools, which have the duty of educating children in the use of media, are essential in fighting against this addiction’s danger. This report stressed the need to form a culture of media education, beginning with schools, children and teenagers. This way we can form people who are more aware, and less vulnerable, to certain siren songs. Let us hope that Aiart’s study may have sewn a seed—and that this seed will not be lost in the dry desert sand.