Eating in a popular outdoor Chinese restaurant in Kuala Lumpur recently, we took bets on how long the six year old at the next table could stay buried in her ipad before her father told her to put it away and eat. But he never did, preoccupied as he was checking emails, sending texts and sometimes chatting to family members. For two hours the kid never moved, even when her parents shifted seats to avoid getting wet when it rained. She just stayed put, hypnotised by whatever game she was immersed in. She never ate or spoke throughout a Sunday night family dinner. And no one intervened.
Could this child actually write or speak? Hard to tell. What happens when she grows up? Will she be able to talk to her friends and boyfriend? It probably won’t matter, because they will all be digital cripples too. You see it already: dating couples, even in expensive restaurants like Robuchon in Macau, gazing romantically into their iphone five or Galaxy screens, not even glancing at each other.
For parents it’s a cheap baby sitting device. For outlay of say HK20, 000 between the ages of zero and 18, your kid is anchored, silenced and entertained, without you lifting a finger. Britain’s Daily Telegraph carried a survey reporting that more than half of UK parents allowed their babies to play with their phone or tablet device.
One in seven of 1,000 parents questioned by babies.co.uk website admitted that they let them use the gadgets for four or more hours a day. James Macfarlane, managing director of the website, was reported as saying: “Given that babies between 3-12 months are awake for only 10 hours per day this is a huge proportion of their waking day. “Although 81 per cent of our users felt that children today spend too much time on smart devices, it hasn’t put most of them off using them to entertain their baby.”
But parents in the UK are getting a bit worried about this. Experts warn that babies and toddlers who access tablet computers for several hours will experience “dangerous” long term effects. British patients as young as four are being enrolled for compulsive behaviour therapy after they became “distressed and inconsolable” when the iPad is taken away. The four year old child had become addicted to using it up for to four hours a day. If UK parents are shocked by this, they should check out the amount of time Asian kids spend on gadgets.
Dr Richard Graham runs Britain’s first technology addiction programme. He said he believes many kids her age are similarly obsessed and that young technology addicts experience the same withdrawal symptoms as alcoholics or heroin addicts when the devices are taken away. He warns that the condition prevents young people from forming normal social relationships, leaving them drained by the constant interaction.
"Children have access to the internet almost from birth now,” he told another newspaper. “They see their parents playing on their mobile devices and they want to play too. It's difficult, because having a device can also be very useful in terms of having a reward, having a pacifier. But if you don't get the balance right it can be very dangerous. The result, he says, is tantrums and uncontrollable behaviour when devices are taken away. As they grow older, the problem gets worse. But gadget addiction is not going to go away. Believe it or not, there are products such as baby-proof iPad covers and iPotties, which feature built-in iPad stands.
Now desperate parents who can’t wean their children off computer games and mobile phones are paying up to £16,000 for a 28-day “digital detox” programme designed by Dr Graham at the Capio Nightingale Hospital in London.
Camp Grounded - for adults
But it’s not just kids who are addicted to gagdets. Who hasn’t wanted to chuck their husband’s blackberry/iphone/galaxy/ipad/laptop into the infinity pool or ocean as tech threatens to ruin yet another holiday? Well now there’s Camp Grounded, an adults-only summer camp held on former Boy Scouts quarters in Navarro, California.
According to the New York Times more than 300 people gather there for three days of colour wars, talent shows, flag-raisings and other tech-free activities, organised by Digital Detox, a group dedicated to teaching technology addicts to “disconnect to reconnect.” Camp Grounded rules are simple: no phones, computers, tablets or watches; work talk, discussion of people’s ages or use of real names. By doing this, Digital Detox hopes to build real connections that run deeper than following people on Twitter or “liking” trivia on Facebook. All very Californian, but they may have a point.