Alexis Hooi

Reconnecting with the real world

By Alexis Hooi (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-10-25 07:25
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When I returned home to Singapore during the recent holidays, one of the first things I did was to re-access my Facebook account. I had been looking forward to reconnecting with people at home and abroad. I wanted to see what everyone was up to, as well as to let everyone know what was going on in my life.

But after a few minutes scrolling down the thumbnail photos and snapshot sentences, I was brought back to the brutal reality of the virtual world - nobody missed me during my yearlong absence from the site.

Even in China, it can be increasingly easy to get caught up in the superficiality of online social networking. The number of Chinese social networking service (SNS) users has already surpassed 200 million, growing at nearly 20 percent within the year, the China Internet Network Information Center reported.

There are now more than 100 SNS providers in the country, enticing netizens with ways to share photos, videos, blogs and other user-generated content in an online market that boasts more than 400 million users. These Chinese SNS sites are formidable alternatives to Facebook, the world's biggest social network with more than 500 million users.

It is still common to spot office workers whiling away some time by tending to farm plots, feeding livestock and dabbling in other fleeting activities through virtual spaces on SNS providers.

But researchers have already been warning about the dangers of Internet addiction through these portals. Teenagers who spend excessive amounts of time on online networking sites, games and surfing alone can suffer from health problems like depression, stress, isolation and sleep deprivation.

People who spend more than 1.5 hours a day online outside of work are considered addicts. The number of young Chinese netizens addicted to the Internet has risen to more than 33 million, the latest study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences shows.

Of the 236 million online users on the Chinese mainland aged below 29, nearly 14 percent are reportedly addicted to the Internet.

Last year's White Paper on China's online gaming market released by the Ministry of Culture reported that obscene content and addiction are two major problems threatening the development of online games.

To help plug these, the ministry has issued the country's first regulation to manage the online gaming market to protect youngsters from undesirable content and Net addiction.

Under the regulation, online games targeting youths must be free of content that influences behavior violating social values and the law. And gaming companies are required to have mechanisms in place to prevent young users from becoming addicted online.

The mechanisms for such prevention were not specified, but such moves are still a step in the right direction to deal with an unhealthy reliance on the online world.

Since I came back to Beijing less than a week ago, I have tried to escape the allure of my computer monitor and catch up with colleagues seated in other parts of the newsroom whenever I can.

It's a refreshing reminder of what a little face-to-face communication can do.

This author is a senior writer of China Daily and he can be reached at e-mail: