People are often immersed in their smartphones when they commute, while at the office, they are engrossed in e-mails and doing searches online. At home, they may even feel uneasy if they are not connected to the Internet.
More and more people are increasingly worried about their addiction to the Internet and have adopted the practice of "Internet fasting" by deliberately spending time offline.
Tomohiko Yoneda, 41, who wrote "Digital Detox no Susume" (Digital detox recommended), did an Internet fast for a month last autumn. Before that, he had been hooked up to the Internet for 12 hours every day.
"When I couldn't go online because I was sick and bedridden, I felt relaxed," Yoneda said. "I was tired of continuously sending out messages that I thought people would like. I also was really worried when I found I was unable to read a book all the way through as my ability to concentrate and think deeply had diminished."
Yoneda figured out how many hours he had been using the Internet and rearranged his digital life. He made it a rule to check e-mails only twice a day, while increasing the number of occasions he met face to face with other people. As a result, he had more time on his hands, could concentrate better, and had a general feeling of well-being.
"Unlike those bits of information on the Internet, real-life experiences make us fully engage all five senses, and because of that, we can learn something from those experiences," Yoneda said. "In addition, we can never be content with ourselves as long as we are dependent on the approval of others. I now feel I've regained the power to take control of my life-a life that had previously been dominated by the Internet."
About 520,000 children are believed to suffer from Internet addiction. This summer, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to offer "Internet fasting camps," where young people commune with nature.
Susumu Higuchi, director of the National Hospital Organisation Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center, established an outpatient section for Internet addiction and has been involved in drawing up a government plan on Internet fasting.
"Children with little real-life experience can easily harbour illusions that the online world is all there is," Higuchi said. "I hope children have experiences in the real world that touch their hearts and discover that there are many other choices in the world besides the Internet."
Some companies have made Internet fasting part of their operations. Iris Ohyama Inc., which manufactures and sells household items, removed personal computers from individual workers' desks in 2007. At the purchasing section of the company's head office, based in Kakuda, Miyagi Prefecture, employees work on computers at a desk other than their own, with a time limit of 45 minutes per session. In addition, it has minimized e-mail communications and instead increased the number of face-to-face meetings.
"Employees tend to get the feeling that whenever they spend time in front of a computer, they're working, but in many cases, they fail to get any essential work done, which results in a lot of time wasted," the section chief said. "In addition, communications often deteriorate, so we saw a need to create a better environment."
Isao Endo, a professor at Waseda University who advocates the idea of Internet fasting at companies, said: "Information found on the Internet is secondhand or tertiary information. Unless people regain the ability to think for themselves based on firsthand information, which can be obtained only in the real world, we're bound to become losers in the fast-changing world of international competition."
Tomomi Fujiwara, who has also carried out Internet fasts and written a book titled "Net de Tsunagaru koto no Taerarenai Karusa" (The unbearable lightness of connecting with others on the Net) said, "On the Internet, words are instantaneously delivered, consumed and forgotten, and therefore do not lead to a dialogue or deepen people's sociability."
"Even in the world of politics, a few spoken words can prompt people to act," he said. "Many people are caught up in connections or interactions in the virtual world of smartphones rather than conversing with their families or friends face to face. We should recognise how serious the situation is."
Internet addiction disorder is a condition in which someone becomes so deeply absorbed in the online world that it mentally and physically interferes with his or her everyday life. For example, a patient with Internet addiction disorder may become irritable when they are unable to use the Internet or experience problems in interpersonal relationships, and their health may be negatively affected. Internet fasting refers to an effort to reevaluate such lifestyles and learn appropriate ways to use the Internet by maintaining a distance from digital life.