- 0 Comments
SEOUL—Lee Yun-soo has some regrets that she replaced her faded old clamshell phone with a smartphone six months ago.
The South Korean high-school student enjoys tweeting funny photos, messaging friends and playing online games. But she said her smartphone is increasingly disrupting her life at school and home.
“I hate doing it but I can’t help it,” she said as she fiddled with the palm-size gadget.
Ms. Lee is among the roughly 1 in 5 students in South Korea who the government said is addicted to smartphone use. This addiction is defined as spending more than seven hours a day using the phone and experiencing symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia and depression when cut off from the device.
Earlier this month, the South Korean government said it plans to provide nationwide counseling programs for youngsters by the end of the year and train teachers on how to deal with students with addiction. Taxpayer-funded counseling treatment here already exists for adult addicts.
South Korea, home to the world’s biggest smartphone maker, Samsung Electronics, prides itself on being the global leader in high-speed Internet and advanced mobile technology. Koreans are some of the first adopters of new digital devices.
With a mobile-phone penetration rate of more than 100%—meaning some individuals carry more than one handset—and smartphones nearly two-thirds of those devices, the government is setting measures to deal with the problems such heavy exposure has spawned. For comparison, the smartphone penetration rate in the U.S. was 50% as of June, according to the International Telecommunication Union.
Korea has had problems with online-game addiction among teenagers for years thanks to widespread availability of high-speed Internet services. Now that smartphone penetration among teens and children is rising at a faster pace than other groups, the age at which people find it hard to wean themselves from a smartphone is getting lower.
The smartphone penetration rate in children ages 6 to 19 tripled to 65% last year from a year earlier, according to the Korea Communications Commission. Meanwhile, the smartphone addiction rate among teens was 18%, double the addiction rate of 9.1% for adults, according to another government survey. According to the Pew Research Center, 37% of teens in the U.S. had smartphones in 2012.
“The situation is already serious,” said Hwang Tae-hee, an official at South Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality & Family.
The problem is surfacing in other tech-savvy places such as Japan and Taiwan. A survey in Japan found that smartphone use among high school girls tripled last year.
As well as distracting students from their studies, experts say it is damaging interpersonal skills.
“Students today are very bad at reading facial expressions,” said Setsuko Tamura, a professor of applied psychology at Tokyo Seitoku University. “When you spend more time texting people instead of talking to them, you don’t learn how to read nonverbal language.”
In Taiwan, the phenomenon of constantly checking email or social media has led to the label “heads-down tribes.” A survey by the Taiwan Network Information Center showed that the number of people accessing the Internet via laptops, tablets or smartphones in the past six months has doubled to a record 5.35 million from a year earlier.
It is standard practice in Korean schools for teachers to collect mobile devices from their students during school hours—with patchy success. “Some of them hide their phones and use them during the break or even in class,” said Lee Kyoung-shin, a high-school teacher in Incheon, west of Seoul.
Smartphones are often the most important possession for a young person, said Ms. Tamura of Tokyo Seitoku University. “It represents their connection to their friends. Not participating could mean exclusion from a circle of friends, so we always find that children are terribly anxious to respond to messages,” she said.
Smartphone one-upmanship has led to incidents of bullying in Korean schools, where a 12-stage smartphone ranking sets the latest models as “kings” and earlier models as “slaves.” Theft is common, said Kim Hoi-kyung, a school supervisor at the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education. The office in June decided to provide up to 20 million won ($17,830) per school this year to help teachers pay for losses of smartphones in their possession.
Lee Yun-soo, the 18-year-old high-school student, has found a way to avoid the distraction of her smartphone during exam periods: She removes the SIM card, which stores phone numbers, from her Android phone and inserts it into an older, Internet-disabled phone.
“I keep asking myself: ‘Why did I buy a smartphone?’ Sometimes I stay up all night using Facebook and tweeting. After switching to a smartphone, I quickly became addicted.” she said.