INTERNET SWAMPS CITY WITH CHAT JUNKIES

It is 2.30 am, and most residents of Dubai are asleep, but not all of them. Some like 19-year-old Harish Juneja sit in the glow of a computer monitor in his Jumeirah home, surfing the World Wide Web, playing online games, downloading files or, most likely, chatting from people all over the world.

By Vijay Dandige (Contributor)

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Published: Wed 20 Apr 2005, 1:00 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 2:49 PM

Some might not stop until it is time for the household to wake up.

As the number of people using the Internet in Dubai grows, so does the visibility of Internet addiction, one of the newer modes of compulsive addictive behaviour to catapult to the list of already known addictions.

A sort of horseback survey in the city shows a trend which has emerged as a worldwide phenomenon. Although the statistics for actual number of computer users and Internet subscribers are difficult to be verified, the UAE, by all accounts, is the most wired nation in the Arab world and one of the top nations of the on-line world. Some estimates put the total number of Internet users in the country at about 1 million. The Internet services were introduced here in 1995 with just 2,550 subscribers.

Research findings have shown that more than half of the UAE's Internet subscribers are Asians: 51 per cent followed by expatriate Arabs (19 per cent), nationals (10 per cent) and Westerners (four per cent). The research also reveals that 36 per cent of Internet subscribers are female. The audience profile ranges from the Generation-Xers to the upper-income members. Up to 40 per cent of the subscribers are in Dubai followed by Abu Dhabi with 30 per cent, 15 per cent in West Coast and 10 per cent in Al Ain.

The study also shows that 33 per cent of Internet subscribers fall in the 30-39 age group followed by 26 per cent in the 20-29 years bracket. Twenty-four per cent are aged between 40 and 49 years. Those under 20 account for 11 per cent, while those aged 50 and above account for seven per cent.

The study also found 54 per cent of the Internet subscribers are graduates, while 25 per cent are post graduates. Fifteen per cent are high school students and the rest are below high school. The study noted that people in the UAE are spending less time on traditional media and more time on the Internet. Among this growing number, a sizable group might as well be Internet addicts.

Young Internet users mostly, especially college students are found to be more susceptible to Internet addiction. Youngsters who own computers like Harish admitted as much. "When I first discovered chatting I used to sit online for 10 hours at a stretch everyday." He said he did it for about six to eight months and cut down to three or four hours, only because of the whopping telephone bills every month.

Another youngster Salim Mustafa, 22, from Lahore, Pakistan thinks he's created a sort of record by sitting non-stop for 28 hours on the Net. He says he knows many students whose academics have suffered because of excessive Internet use. "Certain people are affected by it so much that it's just next to impossible for them to get away from it," he says.

Not only boys, female members of the age group are equally found to be, if not more, hooked to the Internet. Daniel Fernandes, 20, confessed, "I wasted one year because of online chatting with my girl friend, who also did ditto. We both have cut down now because we realised it was insane."

The Internet Café, which first opened in Dubai in 1996, has mushroomed like wild ferns since its inception. Today, the UAE has a plethora of cyber cafes, which allow relatively unregulated access to those who use cyber accounts.

Even among this group, many are found to be afflicted by Net addiction. For instance, Ali Mohammed, a Syrian part-time student from Damascus, spends anywhere between 6 to 8 hours everyday in a cyber café in Deira and plonks down from Dh 600 to 800 every month, "talking my head off with folks back home", as he puts it. "Every time I think of cutting down, I think, "How am I going to spend my time, if not on a computer, and I go back. But I really want to slow down on this," he says.

Although none of the aspects of Internet are properly organised here, as in many countries, several psychologists in Dubai are aware of the phenomenon of 'pathological Internet use'. "Excessive use of Internet has not yet been classified as addiction here. Studies are still going on," points out Dr Hussain Ali, psychologist, Dubai Community Health Centre.

Although the symptoms of Internet addiction are unlike other addiction, several warning signs of excessive Internet use could be identified. Behaviours that signal concern include: staying online longer than you intended, admitting that you can't stop from signing on, neglecting loved ones, chores, sleep, reading, telelvision, friends, exercise, hobbies or social events because of Internet. Extended use of Internet for classes or research or work does not, however, fall in the category of 'pathological use'. So, what's the solution? Dr Ali has his own advice for the hopelessly snared. "Best of all, get real. Instead of chatting with virtual people, go out and talk to some real ones."



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