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Reflections on "Internet addiction" by Fr Roy Cimagala

Cebu City, Brussels, October 20th, 2015 (CBCP News/SIGNIS). A good part of the world’s population, especially in urban areas is using internet. More and more people consider that the internet can have an important influence on users: both positive and negative. It is not a phenomenon limited to the so-called developed countries, it affects people everywhere. From Cebu, in the Philippines, Fr Roy Cimagala, a parish priest, has written the following reflections

Caught in some web of distractions

There’s a new addiction in the block. It’s called internet addiction. And it’s on the rise, with frightening speed, especially affecting young people, like kids, students, and young professionals. They are not of the type prone to drugs or drinks. Rather their addiction is like that of gambling. A certain compulsion dominates them and interferes in their daily duties, wasting a lot of time and energy, and sometimes, money in the process. They can look very decent and normal, at least in appearance. But we know we all have feet of clay. It would be good if we are aware of this clear and present danger, and prepare ourselves accordingly.

Early warning signs may be deterioration of grades for students, and negligence of some basic duties for the young professionals. Students who have been good in class suddenly turn south in class performance. That’s because they now find it hard to concentrate on their studies. They often interrupt their studies to answer the messages on their cell phones, and often check if there are new messages. They upload photos, usually inane selfies, on social media every day, and comment on almost all of what their friends post in the internet. The kids are practically taken away by the many games the internet offers.

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Fr Roy Cimagala

From there, things can worsen as users end up visiting porn websites, and by surfing aimlessly often end up induced to do bad things. Latent weaknesses that the users are not aware of, suddenly get activated, and if they do not have the proper defenses, then they get swallowed up. In other words, they are caught in some web of distractions quite hard to extricate from, since many sweet and irresistible rationalizations come to their mind to justify their actuations.

A certain sense of immediate gratification

The Internet offers its users a certain sense of immediate gratification in terms of accessibility, affordability, and anonymity. When not properly motivated, these users fall for the ease and the false sense of dominion the Internet offers.

We have to acknowledge this social problem and do something about it. This disturbing development should not suck us into fear and cowardice. Bad things can and should give rise to occasions for us to grow more as a person, as a family, as a community and society. They can enrich our humanity. We can resort to some immediate and stop-gap measures, like regulating the use of the Internet, using filters, monitoring, and supervising the Internet use, especially for the children.

Regulation or education

It is said, for example, that if you do not see your children in your own house, what you only have to do is to turn off the Internet, and they will come out. Of course, this and the other measures can only do so much, since the kids now are smart and can easily get around these measures.

We should not stop simply in the level of regulating, stopping, discouraging, and other negative-leaning measures, even if they are also indispensable. They are not meant to be effective for long. We should face the challenge of tackling this issue in a more positive and long-term way.

And that means that especially for the children, we have to learn how to motivate them properly, giving them by word and example, precious lessons about order, prudence, temperance, sense of purpose. It’s important that despite the usual tension and conflicts, a cordial, friendly and intimate relationship exists between them and the parents, the teachers, and others with certain authority. There should be an atmosphere of openness, trust, and confidence in this relationship. When this is absent, we have a big problem to solve.

For the older children, young professionals and even adults, the challenge to face is how to resolve the existential emptiness that is at the bottom of this Internet addiction and other forms of bondage. It is this existential emptiness that makes people vulnerable to be swallowed up by their passions and other weaknesses that often are hidden and sometimes masked by a façade of some virtue. Even those who are generally regarded as “good and holy people” are not exempted from this predicament. In fact, their case can be trickier and harder to handle, since they can easily hide this problem due to the many good and impressive things they do and accomplish.

This existential emptiness is resolved when one is genuinely connected with God who is everything to us, our life, our wisdom, our truth, our freedom, our love, etc. This happens when one truly prays, and becomes, in St. Paul’s words, a spiritual man, going beyond sentimentalism, psychology, intellectualism, professionalism, activism, etc. There’s no other way to tackle this issue (I believe).


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