Technology addiction, social networks and internet safety

Any sort of addiction is a terrible thing. Especially for people with addictive personalities that are easily overcome with obsession over alcohol, drugs or even activities such as exercise and work. Such people are prone to becoming addicted to anything they might take pleasure from, often with destructive results. According to a 2009 article from Psychology Today, approximately 10 to 15 percent of the population may have addictive personalities.

So what happens if you have an addictive personality and you happen to be exposed to a source of instant gratification any given time of day, 24/7 with almost no initial costs? You’re in trouble, that’s what. I’m talking, of course, about Internet addiction.  I mentioned last week the growing issue of Internet addiction and a teleconference between Moscow and Beijing on the subject. The Chinese have an experience with, uh, curing the addiction, but this experience ranges from boot camps with physical punishments to ideological propaganda to electroconvulsive therapy. While these methods can be perhaps effective, the Western world generally frowns upon such techniques. Thus there is no known cure for the disease, if in fact such a disease exists, but possible methods include imposing moderation and providing healthier addiction alternatives, however ridiculous it may sound. Estimates of the number of internet addicts across the world are ranging from 2 to 10 percent of constant internet users. Vitalina Burova, senior researcher at the Roszdrav Research Institute for Psychiatrics says the majority of the afflicted are men ages 17 to 21. Incidentally, this is also the majority of the tech geeks out there. She suggests instilling safe internet behavior to kids as early as possible. Children are rapidly becoming a large share of online users, and by current trends this will only increase. They are the digital natives and they were born in the age of the Internet and may have a hard time separating real world from the virtual one.

I’m pretty sure the numbers of Internet addicts are lower than they actually are, as Internet addicts are harder to spot. They don’t suffer such debilitating physical effects as substance abuse addicts, and they can be relatively productive members of society, at least economically speaking, especially if their jobs rely on Internet. So unless someone admits to being an Internet addict (and what addict willingly does that?) it’s hard to identify one unless you live with him, for example. A Russian newspaper “Arguments and Facts” stated that 85% of people 18 to 35 years old are hooked on gadgets, with physical manifestations such as using a cellphone even when taking a bath. And don’t forget that a “gadget” these days usually means something connected to the Internet.

Of course where there’s an addiction, there are those willing to exploit it. I’ve mentioned games for social networks. Social networks and online games in itself are major sources for Internet addiction, so when you combine those, you are sure to have a long-lasting highly potent virtual drug. The number of Internet users in Russia that are registered in social networks range from 60 to 70 percent by different estimates. J’son   Partners Consulting have conducted a research, according to which every third social network user indulges in social games. By 2015 they expect every second user to do that. In 2009 8.5% of users used paid services, with expected 25.7% in 2015. For the same years, the percentage of such expenses spent on social games will rise from 26.8% to 34.6%.

The new age social networks, such as Odnoklassniki and Vkontakte, have a relatively young audience. 75% of users ages 25 to 35 frequent the former social network, while the latter has a younger base: 93% of Internet users ages 14 to 17 and 85% ages 18 to 24, according to Romir monitoring agency.  LiveJournal, an older kind of social network, basically a blog platform, is generally inhabited by older people, probably owing it to a format oriented at lengthy posts and discussions.

Svetlana Ivannikova, the head of LiveJournal Russia, gave the following numbers for the social gamer profile: 20% are under 30, 21% are between 30 and 39 years old, and 20% are 40 to 49. Everybody loves wasting time, regardless of their age it seems.

It was only natural then that the last of the social media giants that was game-free would finally cease the opportunity to entertain its users. i-Jet Media, the largest social game company in Russia, basically the Russian equivalent of Zynga, convinced the owners of LiveJournal over a year-long negotiation to provide the feature for the blog platform. The games are, as usual, free-to-play. But if you really want the good stuff – you have to pay. In the first two weeks after an open beta launch over 11 thousand users subscribed for the services.

So where am I going with it? Well, when you combine all these numbers you basically have everyone spending time and money not only on social networks, but on social games. I mean, every one in five Internet users plays social games and every fourth gamer in Russia actually spends real money on virtual goods.

Some even hope to promote their social networks through gaming. According to Google trends, the audience for Facebook in Russia is negligible comparing to Odnoklassniki and VK. They hope to improve their positions by being the first social network to launch Angry Birds within the framework. Angry Birds is one of the top games for the Android and iOS platforms and is surprisingly addictive.

Now, remember the suggestion to raise children with imposing rules on how to behave online? There are even special websites dedicated to the issue of children online. Take, for example,, the Center for safe Internet in Russia. It covers all aspects of online safety, and not only for children. It was created in 2008 as a member of the European network of safer Internet centers Insafe. The network actually organizes a Safer Internet Day every February 9th since 2004. February 8th a conference was held in Moscow, finishing the week of safe Runet with the Safer Internet Forum. The main topic was the increasingly popular issue of  Internet and children. We’ll have a closer look at the  project and the conference in the coming days.

As a side note, some parents do have interesting ideas on raising their children and the Internet. Here’s a story for you. Two brothers were playing with their Beyblades in the bathtub and ended up completely destroying it. Now I’m not sure how exactly they managed to mangle a bathtub with toys, but I guess you have to blame our consumer society and outsourcing production for the shoddy build quality of the majority of products. Anyway.  So what does a parent do in this case? Teach them a lesson. How? Well, long story short, their parents put the toys up on Ebay to pay for the broken tub.  With the photo of the toys, of course, so people know what they’re buying. Actually, the photo was that of the kids holding the toys they are about to part with, one of them crying in despair and the other one seemingly too shocked to realize what’s going on.

The parents annotated the situation thoroughly in the lot description. Apparently the estimated damages to the bathtub were $500 dollars, and they were hoping to cover at least part of the expenses with the auction. They’ve already broken the kids’ piggy bank and scavenged $125 towards the cost, and expected to follow up with similar auctions until the total cost is covered by the tear-soaked sold toys.

After a while the top bid was $69.

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