有人在听吗？ / Is Anyone Listening?
中国社会科学院（the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences）最新研究显示，上网过多对未成年人大脑的损伤可以与滥用可卡因及酗酒相提并论。
根据中国青少年网络协会（the China Youth Internet Association）2011年的调查，大陆城市约有2,400万青少年患有“网瘾症”，另有1,800万青少年已出现早期症状。“网瘾”在成年人中也很流行，但数据表明成年人患“网瘾”的程度明显较轻。
Is Anyone Listening?
These findings caused quite a sensation among scientists and doctors around the world. One British psychiatrist described them as groundbreaking.
Magnetic Resonance Scans of teens afflicted with Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) revealed less healthy neuron fibers in the white matter of their brains. The study established that excessive online time damages the brain's white matter tissues in a similar manner to cocaine or heroin abuse, or alcoholism.
The study confirmed what many specialists had suspected, that certain brain abnormalities develop in similar ways whether the addiction is substance-based, internet or video-game based.
The impact of internet addiction undermines cognitive control, which affects the individual's decision-making process as well as their ability to control emotions and behavior.
According to the China Youth Internet Association's 2011 survey, an estimated 24 million young people in mainland cities were internet addicts, with another 18 million showing early symptoms. Internet addiction is also prevalent among adults, but data about the extent of the adult problem is less clear-cut.
With the largest and fastest growing internet user population in the world, complemented by the largest mobile device user base in the world, China needs to take this problem very seriously.
Apart from brain damage and its impact on behavior, there are well-known physical side effects to excessive internet and mobile use.
Recently my wife and I had dinner at a Shanghainese restaurant in Hong Kong after seeing a film. At the table next to us there was a nice-looking family of four: Mom, Dad, a teenage boy and his teenage sister. During the meal, hardly a word of conversation took place among them. Using chopsticks with one hand, holding their mobile phone in the other, all four stared at their screens the whole time.
This is kind of scary. If a young family can't engage in relaxing conversation over dinner in a nice restaurant, it's not likely they will talk much in other places either. The long-term effects of that on family health are bad enough, but in particular the young people are deprived of an important learning opportunity involving verbal communication skills, which begins at home.
It's amazing to watch how young Chinese people can input text messages so quickly on their mobiles while hardly even looking at the device. That's a neat little skill, but it will be useless if not accompanied by the ability to listen to people, talk to people, engage in dialogue for the purpose of solving problems, expressing one's ideas, work in teams, etc.
Perhaps schools will soon need to modify their curriculum to include course subjects like: face to face conversation skills; verbal conversation practice; talking with others, etc.
If schools don't, parents better find their own ways to make sure their kids can still develop basic conversation and people skills. Failure to do this will be even more crippling than damage to white brain cells.