by HARIZAH KAMEL/ pic by BLOOMBERG
MALAYSIANS’ addiction to digital devices and the connected world could have negative social and behavioural consequences as more people are glued to online content.
A survey by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) on Internet users last year showed that Malaysians spent on average 6.6 hours online daily.
Another study by MCMC in 2017 found that 89% of respondents were addicted to the Internet with 60% showing elevated levels of anxiety and a third suffering from major depression.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail recently voiced her concern of the extreme Internet usage that could lead to addiction among Malaysians.
Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib warned that the over dependence on the Internet could have a negative behavioural impact.
“Those experiencing digital addiction often exhibit signs commonly associated with drug addiction that include being agitated, secretive and withdrawing from friends and family.
“There is increasing loneliness and depression, fuelling anxiety and stress, unable to concentrate, sleep deprivation and being more self-absorbed. All of this has social implications,” he told The Malaysian Reserve recently.
Psychiatrists describe those suffering from digital addiction could experience symptoms of debilitating compulsive behaviour which include unable to function in social settings and behavioural change.
Other common symptoms indicating digital addiction are anger, irritability and distress when access is restricted or revoked.
But Azrul said the digital phenomenon would require further study to better understand the situation.
“It must also be seen as a public health issue, requiring the same level of treatment and care as people suffering from drug addiction,” he said.
The Internet is like any other technology — to misuse it is inevitable.
Excessive use of the Internet that causes both physical and mental damages is now one of the leading challenges in modern society.
Internet addiction has become a global concern over the last couple of years.
Although not officially recognised as a disease in mainstream textbooks, researchers and scholars globally are actively raising awareness of how serious Internet addiction can be.
In Malaysia, the percentage of Internet users at national level increased from 76.9% in 2016 to 87.4% last year.
There were about 28.7 million Internet users, an increase from 24.5 million in 2016.
Social media and communication apps have become an important tool for connecting people, building communities, voicing out one’s opinion, and business’ marketing and advertising.
The survey estimated that there were about 24.6 million social networking users in 2018 with 97.3% of the users having Facebook account, making it the most preferred social networking platform in the country, followed by Instagram (57%), YouTube (48.3%), Google+ (31.3%), Twitter (23.8%) and LinkedIn (13.3%).
It is estimated that there were 27.8 million users in 2018 messaging apps with WhatsApp as the most preferred platform, accounting for about 98.1% of the total users. The same respondents also communicated on other messaging platforms including Facebook Messenger (55.6%), WeChat (36.8%) and Telegram (25%).
More people are using the Internet to perform online banking activities or online shopping. 84.9% of online banking users made real-time inquiries to check their account balance, transaction history and other information, while 80.6% used intra-and inter-bank fund transfer facilities.
The widespread adoption of smartphones has fuelled the Internet addiction.
In 2017, the number of smartphone users in Asia Pacific alone was estimated to number over 1.25 billion. By 2019, the number is expected to reach almost 1.5 billion in the region.
In Malaysia, the number of smartphone users have reached 18.4 million this year.
Smartphone remained the most popular means for users to access the Internet, with nine out of 10 Internet users went online using the device (93.1%), a 3.7% increase from 89.4% in 2016.