Can you survive a world without web

Can you survive a world without web
China's Health Ministry allows mobile health providers to offer only consulting services, not treat patients or offer prescriptions.
PHOTO: The New Paper

Growing up with tiny gadgets at their fingertips, a young person of today is likely to spend more time consuming media than sleeping in one day.

According to a 2015 study by Common Sense Media, a US non-profit group that helps children, parents and educators navigate the world of media and technology, teens aged 13 to 18 spend an average of nine hours a day consuming media for enjoyment, such as watching shows, playing games, accessing social media and chatting via video.

Tweens aged six to 12 are reported to spend six hours on media a day.

Another study of 1,060 teenagers by the Pew Research Center in the US found that one in four says he or she is "almost constantly" online.

The prevalence of technology usage among teens was the basis of a recent experiment undertaken by Russian child psychologist Yekaterina Murashova.

She postulated that young people were "incapable of finding ways to keep themselves busy, and are completely unfamiliar with the idea of the world of their imagination".

To test her theory, she got 68 teenagers, aged 12 to 18, to go without technology for eight hours. No television, computers, handheld games or smartphones.

Only three teens - two boys and one girl - managed to complete the experiment.

Three participants reportedly had suicidal thoughts, five experienced intense panic attacks, 27 experienced symptoms such as abdominal pain, hot flushes, sweating and nausea, and almost all participants experienced feelings of fear and anxiety.

The New Paper on Sunday conducted an informal experiment. Five students aged nine to 19 were told to spend eight hours without the Internet and gadgets such as TV or video game consoles.

By the halfway mark, all the participants had run out of things to do and had strong urges to look at their devices. (See report on facing page.)

Some even imagined they could feel their phones vibrating.

Dr Carol Balhetchet, a clinical psychologist and senior director for youth services at the Singapore Children's Society, says children and teenagers are drawn to modern technology.

INTERACTIVITY

She says: "Children love the vibrant colours and interactivity of technology where everything is exciting and moves very quickly.

"They were born into this new age. This is their world and it feels normal for them to have gadgets and devices around - it's like waking up and eating bread every day."

Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness, also agrees that being born into the digital age plays a huge part on their dependence on digital devices.

He says: "In this age, the main way of communication is through devices.

"These children grew up in an era of modern technology so they don't know of any alternatives to get by. For adults, we can still communicate through letters or meeting up, but they are so used to using Whatsapp and social media."

He adds that humans tend to have transitional objects; items that give us a sense of security to provide psychological comfort, such as blankets or toys for children.

However, now that the digital age has taken over, the Internet and digital devices have become children's transitional objects.

Dr Lim says: "When a three- to four-year-old grows up with a phone or smart device, it gives him or her a sense of security. So once it's taken away, the child will start to feel anxious."

THE EXPERIMENT

Can you stay at home for eight hours and suppress the urge to use a gadget or telecommunication device?

That was the challenge we posed to these five young people.

They each selected an eight-hour block of time - 9am to 5pm for some, 2pm to 10pm for others, depending on school commitments.

During that period, they were not allowed to go on the Internet or use any gadgets, such as a phone, radio, television or video game console.

They also had to stay home, but were allowed to interact with family members at home.

We got their family members to monitor the participants, as well as take photographs of them doing this "experiment".

The participants also took notes every hour on what they did and how they felt. Here is how they fared:

CHU JUN KEAT, 19

The Ngee Ann Polytechnic student was incredulous when told about the experiment.

"What? Eight hours? That's crazy," he said. After thinking about it for five minutes, he gamely said okay.

He first did some push-ups and planks. After taking a shower, he walked around his room, looking for a book to read.

By the third hour, he got fidgety and instinctively glanced at his phone holder several times.

Jun Keat said: "It was so frustrating because every time I reached out for my phone, there was nothing.

"I couldn't even contact my best friends because I hadn't memorised their numbers."

By the seventh hour, he was pacing his room.

Once the experiment was over, he immediately turned on his iPhone and countless notifications poured in.

He said: "I don't think I can live without technology… It's like being disconnected from everyone.

"The first few hours were fine but after that, I felt like my world was crumbling down."

LESLEY SIM, 17

"Yes, I can do this," Lesley said before the experiment started.

After all, the student, who just got accepted into Temasek Polytechnic, was prepared.

She had a guitar, exercise equipment, some nail polish and food to keep herself occupied.

But within the first hour, she was struggling.

"When I wanted to play the guitar, I didn't have my phone to search for new chords. Luckily I had some chords printed out already," she said.

In the third hour, she changed into sports attire and got into a sit-up position, but hit a snag.

She said: "I need YouTube... I can't recall any routines because they're all stored in my phone."

She went on to exercise on her own and finally had dinner after two hours.

"Food makes everything better. I'll eat and try to forget about my phone," she said as she tucked into a bowl of udon.

Like the other participants, she was glued to her phone once the eighth hour was up.

Lesley said: "When I heard the notifications from my phone earlier, I was crying on the inside.

"I'm just going to text non-stop for the next few hours."

MATTHEW YEO, 17

Claiming he had "no social life", Matthew instantly said yes to the challenge.

The teenager, who just got accepted into Anderson Junior College, spent the first hour building a Nanoblock peacock.

But after that, he ran out of things to do since he had not planned out a schedule like the other participants.

He said: "Usually, I'd be watching YouTube videos or the television.

"I haven't even made it to the second hour and I'm so drained already."

In the third hour, he had an idea.

Matthew said: "My first instinct was to Google 'What to do when you're bored', then I realised I couldn't use the Internet."

Dejected, he rummaged through his collection of comics and began reading. He also napped for an hour.

By the seventh hour, he was wide awake, anxiously waiting for the time limit to be up.

He said: "I'm looking forward to checking eight hours worth of Instagram and Snapchat.

"At least I'm not that bored now that I've hit a stride with one of my books."

FATIN NAZIHAH AWANG, 14

When the Choa Chu Kang Secondary School student was told to write down how she was feeling, she confessed that she didn't even have a notebook as she takes down notes on her phone.

Within the first two hours of this experiment, she said she felt "vibrations" in her pocket even though her mother had taken away her mobile phone.

"I haven't checked Snapchat for two hours. I might not have anything to talk about with my friends in school tomorrow," was her dilemma.

By the halfway mark, she had opened her fridge at least 10 times, hoping to find something to eat to pass the time.

Nazihah also constantly asked her mother for the time because she uses her phone as a watch,.

By the seventh hour, she had cleaned her room, done some revision and even finished reading a book that she bought last year.

Right after the experiment, she was glued to her phone and laptop for two hours.

Her mother, Madam Mazidah Musa, a 49-year-old housewife, said: "I wanted to see how long she can live without using her electronic gadgets. I think it opened her eyes to how productive she can be without her phone, so I was happy with the results."

THUNK KYAL SIN SOE, 9

The Fuhua Primary School student was reluctant to take part in the experiment.

After much persuasion and an offer of gummy bears from this reporter, she conceded.

Once the experiment started, the first thing she did was take a nap.

She said: "I slept for three hours so time would pass faster."

At the fourth hour, she sought out her mother and sister, and pestered them to play with her.

When they told her they were busy, she took out some painting materials. She painted a myriad of things - from the alphabets of her name to random shapes.

Thunk said: "Usually if there's no one or nothing to entertain me, I'll resort to technology.

"I actually love painting so it doesn't matter if my phone's not around for now."

By the end of the experiment, her family was surprised at how she managed to pull through without tears.

Her mother, Madam Nu Nu Lwin, 45, a housewife, said: "It's good to see my daughter getting some time off her phone and other electronic gadgets.

"I thought she would whine and request for her phone after just an hour, but she seemed to be fine without it."

"They were born into this new age. This is their world and it feels normal for them to have gadgets and devices around - it's like waking up and eating bread every day." - Dr Carol Balhetchet, a clinical psychologist and senior director for youth services at the Singapore Children's Society, says children and teenagers are drawn to modern technology.

tnp@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Feb 21, 2016.
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