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This relatively new medium offers stimulation and excitement–all within the confines of your office or bedroom. There are ways to establish privacy and even indulge in a spot of voyeurism. Besides, there is the thrill of being who ever you want. There is no denying that the internet is an extremely dynamic and interactive medium. It also allows instant access to caboodles of information and content. But there’s a downside to this gregarious storehouse of wit, intelligence, trivia and virtual emotion. It’s been labeled net addiction and a larger number of Indians are falling prey to an all encompassing net which threatens even their social and family life.

Parna Aggarwal is a self confessed net addict. Working as a software professional in a Multi–national company in Pune, he needs to come home after a hectic day to unwind in front of the computer and just chat up his friends. “I’ve tried to curtail it now but earlier I would feel weird if I couldn’t sit in front of my computer at home for even a day”, he says. For him it is the thrill of technology and communication that makes him want to use this highly interactive medium to communicate with friends who stay in the same city. The spread of net cafes which provide heapwsing time to teenagers enabled Sameer Shaikh to spend 18 hours surfing the net at a popular net cafe in Camp. Why would he want to use the net for 18 hours anyway? Says Shaikh, “I spend time chatting with my three girlfriends–one of them is in Australia. By staying on–line I was able to negate the time difference”. But Shaikh’s addiction didn’t come cheap. He spent Rs 800 in one day alone. “That was when I realized that I couldn’t go around spending money like that”, says Shaikh. So he got himself a job at the same net cafe and is happiest when he is left alone to browse the net. In Shaikh’s case it could be attributed to teenage hormones. But what of the others who would rather spend their quality time glued to a computer terminal rather than with their families?

Psychiatrist Suparna Telang feels that a lot more youngsters are using the net as a means to vent their emotions and indulge in third person interaction and exhibitionism which they are not allowed to vent in public. “Outside there is a lot of restrained sexuality whereas the net has broken all such barriers. Admittedly, it is a very democratic medium, but it curtails emotional growth. As long as the child leans towards it as a crutch, he will continue to be an escapist and will always prefer the virtual world to the real”, says Dr Telang.

As more and more people get on–line, they start spending more and more time chatting and surfing. A survey by the Center for Online Addiction shows that about five to ten per cent of all on–line users might be potentially addicted. However, it becomes harder to label it as just addiction. It would seem to be more of a psychological disorder which results in an out–of–control behavior which in turn threatens to overwhelm the person’s life.

Since the percentage of Indian users is much lesser than developed countries where more people have access to computers and the internet, the lure of net addiction is much lesser. Primarily also, it seems to affect children and teenagers most, as they are at a very impressionable age. But then, such obsession had been stated with the rise in television viewer ship as well. As is the case with any new medium of communication and interaction, it is up to people to set their limits and perhaps wait for the novelty to wear off. In India, it is the costs which seem the most prohibitive factor.