New documentary “Web Junkies” is the first in-depth look at the internet culture phenomenon in China and how it is affecting youth, families, and the country as a whole.

Web Junkies - a Cause for Concern in China

China is, at least for many outsiders, a place that is hard to understand. With little exposure to daily life in China, those who have not visited the country are left with news reports that are typically sensational or politicised. Furthermore, Chinese culture, like many cultures in Asia, values privacy.

This value of privacy contrasts significantly with the United States’ culture of talk show revelations and shocking tell-all memoirs. In some ways, American culture has become a culture of therapy. Yet, as China has made rapid economic progress, it is also following the trend for therapy, as revealed in a remarkable new documentary, “Web Junkies”.

The documentary tells the story of Chinese teenagers who are addicted to internet gaming and sent to treatment by their parents. It gives an in-depth, multi-faceted portrayal of the ways that internet gaming is both a symptom and a cause of a growing generational divide. With rapid modernisation and growing affluence, Chinese youngsters now face a radically different world than their parents. And the primary conduit through which this changes flows is the internet. Some key scenes from the movie are illustrative of what is happening.

Before we examine the movie, though, it is important to note that the methods and perspectives in the film may not reflect those of The Cabin, Chiang Mai.

One teenager says that when he is online, he has real friends. When he is at home, he doesn’t feel listened to. And this is a common pattern, according to the director of the treatment centre, Professor Tao Ran. He says that today’s young people are incredibly lonely, and turn to online gaming in order to connect with others in similar straits.

Many teens drop out of school or university in order to play games. While school has traditionally been the means of securing a foothold in the job marketplace, increasing competitiveness and limited opportunities have reduced students’ motivation to succeed. Adding to this is a breakdown of communication among families.

In one set of counselling sessions, we see a boy who has been admitted after playing 10 hours of the game World of Warcraft every day. His father admits to beating him and threatening to stab him before saying that they have no way to communicate.

This frustration and inability to communicate is a theme in the film, with affluent parents preoccupied with work and other responsibilities unable to connect with their children. Unable to communicate directly, it is easier to see technology as the source of their familial woes.

And so, their parents check the teens into a treatment centre, typically by drugging, duping, or deceiving. One young man’s parents tell him that they are going on a skiing trip in Russia before dropping him off at the centre.

One further scene shows with pathos the rift that has grown between the young and old in China. When parents collect their children at the end of treatment, they awkwardly face their offspring until a voice over a loudspeaker instructs them to “Hug your kids.”

As with any cultural phenomenon, there are no easy answers or solutions to internet addiction. The documentary “Web Junkies” is a first foray into public discussion of the scope and gravity of this problem in China.

The Cabin, Chiang Mai, is a residential facility offering world-class treatment for addiction. If you are concerned about addiction, contact one of our specialists today.

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