“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”
In dark hours of the chilly winter night of 2015, I was lying under my blanket reasoning with oneself about recharging my monthly internet pack and my salary account balance looked paltry. At that time, it was a gritty decision to make whether to recharge my “Smart Phone” or not. The Internet revolution had already knocked the doors of India by then, so now it was only the decision to be made of sacrificing dinner at my favorite place and with the money I could recharge my phone with Tata Docomo pack of Rs 256 for 1GB/Month (Disclaimer:- Those days it was 1 GB/month not 1GB a day). I still fondly remember those days when we survived with that 1 gb pack for whole month, the most we could do was to glimpse our whatsapp, instagram or facebook account twice in a day and then turn off the internet.
Then suddenly came a moment where all the rumors were floating around of a telecom operator named ‘Jio’ of Reliance industries which will be providing free internet to all the users. To us ‘Indians’ it was really hard to digest, as we do not have the habit of getting any freebies. But the fantasy soon became reality in 2016 and we have not looked back since then. The emergence of this telecom operator led to ‘smartphone revolution’ in Indian markets. Now the scenario is such, people find it difficult to separate themselves from mobile phones/smart devices. They may feel high levels of separation anxiety and experience feelings of panic and stress, the term coined by scientists for such type of disorder is ‘Nomophobia’ the phobia of being out of contact with cellular phone.
Effects of media/screen use on brain activity
We as a society need to rethink, re-evaluate and analyse where we want to go from this juncture. The toys of the 20th century have been replaced by the smartphones of 21st century, we call TV sets as idiot box and refrain our young minds from watching excessive TV shows but at the same time presenting them with similar tools like smart phones/tablets which leads to harmful effects like
headaches, nomophobia, sleep disorders etc.; reason being parents have more urgent matters to attend to then their own kids. Parents now a days widely use it as a bribery tool to make kids behave in public places, movie theaters or even to go to potty. Parents have discovered an easy tool to engage their kids, but they are unaware of the consequences. World Health Organization in 2019, on the recommendations of American Academy of Pediatrics in 2016 have endorsed that children between age of 02-05 years should be limited to 1 hr of screen time per day and lesser is better for their mental health. The main reason behind this was that a child devote more time on screen or phone rather than physical activity and exercises which offers a lot of benefits needed for child’s physical and mental development. Mindful Awareness Research Centre has published a research paper in Jan 2020 that involved MRI scans of brains of children between 03-05 years old, found those who used screens/smart devices more than the recommended rate without parental involvement has disorganized and lower levels of development in the brains white matter, an area key to language, literacy and cognitive skill development(as shown in Fig). There are endless studies and research papers pointing towards ill effects of smart devices on toddlers and even on adults.
Many big corporate debate about the smartphone not harming the general populace as there are no ground results indicative of their relationship with any of the disorder. Our so naive populace fail to realize that the evolution has just began, even the dangerous radiation takes time to show the ill-effects and it’s been only half a decade of using the smartphones/devices. We will start getting the more detailed analysis by the end of 2030 perhaps. It is just a ticking timebomb which is ready to explode and we are just busy in celebrating its success and unaware as to when it will devour us as a whole.
Growth of OTTs in India
Now I would like to express my grief for all those “young minds” who have become prey to these cheap internet tactics and have been exposed to a devil. Being a movie buff, I visit theatres quite frequently and noticed the big ‘A’ rated signboard for specific movies on the entrance of the theatre. The sensor board tries hard to keep away the explicit content from the users who are not supposed to watch it, but they are miserably failing on all fronts. “The devil you know is better than the devil we don’t”, this paraphrase has proven to be more significant in today’s world where behemoths like ‘Netflix’, ‘Amazon’, ‘Hotstar’ and many more are capturing the Indian cyber space and have given rise to trend of web series in India. They are often scientifically termed as OTT(Over-the-top media services) who have grown like mushrooms over the last few years as shown in Fig.1. They are giving
uninterrupted supply of violence, bloodshed and sexual explicit content to our young and creative minds as there is no age filter or barrier to filter out the young populace. Even the apps like ‘Youtube’, Instagram, Facebook are endorsing them. India has approximately 300 million video streaming audience and number is likely to grow up to 550 million by 2023. Cisco Systems Inc. has estimated the country will have 829 million smartphone users by 2022.
The youth of our country confuse progressive thinking with sexual promiscuity and functional alcoholism. It should be realised that the accessibility of sexual content by young populace have more harmful consequences than one might expect. The way an immature mind perceives such sensitive issues can be easily measured by the increasing number of minors participating in acts of rape and violence against women in India. This has led to rise in anxiety, depression, violence and other mental problems to the young and naive minds. In developed countries like US, UK lot of studies and research been done by the psychologists, neurologists to assess the effect of these on the mass, but in India it is at a very nascent stage but at the same time rate of growth of users for these apps is astonishing(as shown in Fig). After recently reading a journal about the effects of web series
where the questionnaire was formed and target group was 18-30 years old Indians. In the survey majority of the youths accepted of being influenced by the violence, intimate scenes, drinking and smoking habits of the lead actors in the show. Majority of the youth spend 3-6 hrs on daily basis watching the series, no study being done till now in India about the cognitive effects of this on human minds.
As I have mentioned out only the ill effects of the internet and web series, it is pertinent to mention that at the same time they are the ocean of knowledge with apps like Netflix providing various documentaries on war history, mindfulness exercises and other learning aspects. But with time it has proved more to be a Bane than Boon for the Indian society and after effects are yet to arise. The cyber space share of these OTT’s is increasing at an alarming rate.
The treatment for internet/Web series addiction is still in its infancy, with the wider categories of internet and screen addiction still not being included as behavioural disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical manual of Mental Disorders – the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals. The most viable solution is enhanced parental control and instead of trying to engage their kids with distractions like phones, web series a more humane touch is expected from the parents. In India, a 26 year old is first case of ‘Netflix addiction’ and being treated at Service for Healthy Use of Technology(SHUT) clinic at Bengaluru’s National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences(NIMHANS).The treatment plan includes regular meditation and therapy sessions. Therapy sessions at psychologist and rehabilitation centres are being provided in the western countries for the individual but it is not so viable due to the high cost involved in it which can be only afforded by few. There is a “Hard Reduction” approach which is gaining momentum among the common populace, under which one have to set goals and install technology(CALM app at android is gaining popularity) that will help you limit your screen time and reduce it until you are only watching as much as you have decided to watch. This is doable but one have to be highly motivated to make that work.
The pitching in of Censorboard of India is required, the reason why a film certifying board exists in the first place is to ensure that any kind of mass display of movies, shows is properly screened first so that it does not create chaos in the society directly or indirectly. Censerboard considers internet not exactly the means of mass screening, but they need to consider that tide has turned now, the youth and public is more indulged in movies and TV series over internet which are going uncensored and being delivered to anyone having the access to them regardless of their age. Due to ongoing COVID-19 scenario, reach of the children have increased to other smart devices for educational purposes because of which screen time have also been increased significantly. Not only parents, we as son, daughter, relatives all need to spread the awareness and mutually decide what kind of future we want for our future generation.
1. “Awareness Academy of Pediatrics announces for children’s media use.” www.aap.com. Retrieved 25 Feb 2020.
2. “MRIs show screen time linked to lower brain development in pre-schoolers.” www.cnn.com. Retrieved 27 Feb 2020.
3. “Explained: The OTT boom in India.” http://www.moneycontrol news. Retrieved 01 Mar 2020.
4. “Analysis of various effects of web series streaming online on internet on Indian youth.” Vinod S Koravi MD PHD(Sch) Swasthvritta and Yoga. Asst Prof. Yashwant Ayurveda College,Kodoli. Retrieved 01 Mar 2020.
5. “Netflix addiction: NIMHANS gets its first case, 12 signs you are addicted to Netflix.” www.timesnownews.com. Retrieved 03 Mar 2020.