Finland makes the public agenda only once in a blue moon. Even the Finns admit that nothing particularly fascinating happens to them. That may be because there are only 5.1 million Finns in the world and they try not to bother anyone. That may be why most of the headlines about Finland are bizarre, borderline absurd.
News agency Reuters, for instance, reported last week that a senior Finnish military officer admitted that the Finnish army routinely exempts from the draft young people who are designated as "Internet addicts." "For people who play Internet games all night and have no friends or hobbies, being inducted is quite a shock. They are weak .. and unable mentally to interact outside the Internet ... we send them home for two to three years, and then we examine if they have matured and are able to serve in the army."
Finnish journalist Harri Domonyi told me angrily that it appears the wire service is bent on showing Finland as a country on the edge of insanity. According to him, News of Helsinki, the largest newspaper in Finland, also reported a few other remarks by the senior officer. For instance, "Internet addiction is not a reason in and of itself for an exemption. In most cases, these youths are simply not ready mentally for military service."
Considering that Finland's average population density is 15 residents per square kilometer (compared to Israel's 279) and that the country has one of the highest suicide rates in the world due to loneliness and the long winter, it is understandable that Finnish youth is, how shall I put it delicately, a little depressed. That will certainly not interfere with us mocking the Finns who treat Internet addiction as something for which the army exempts young people from service. Even the soldier at the IDF Spokesman's Office who was asked to find out whether the Israeli army exempts inductees who are addicted to the Internet couldn't stop laughing for five minutes.
Any attempt to examine whether "Internet addiction" is a real phenomenon or not is fruitless. Far too much silly research that doesn't prove anything comes to the dramatic conclusion that the world is addicted to the Internet. Back in 1999, research already determined that 6 percent of surfers were addicted. The fact the research consisted of a 10-question form didn't bother anyone. Israeli research found that the more interactive the applications used by the surfer became (such as chatting), the more their chances of becoming addicted increased. Amazing.
Research with a purpose is out there too. In August 2002, a report was published that found 25 percent of those whose workplaces are Internet-connected admitted to being "addicted to the Internet." How surprising to find that the survey was conducted by a commercial entity that sold software that monitored employee Internet use and prevented unauthorized surfing.
The strangest part of the story is that there is no agreement on how to diagnose "Internet addiction." An endless number of definitions are applied in an effort to clarify exactly when we should feel our fondness for surfing, e-mail and online games is becoming dangerous, detrimental to our social or family life and increases the chances we'll be found abandoned at the keyboard.
Some Internet sites offered alternative tests to answer the question of our Internet addiction. For instance, when you go to the bathroom do you announce you plan to "download a file"? Did you shed tears over Napster's demise? Do you dream in HTML? Was the last woman you tried to pick up a JPEG?
It is possible to get addicted to anything - food, shopping, television. But none of those things have the advantage of the Internet, the ultimate demon that took over our lives and turned children into zombies that prefer to drool at their screens rather than play soccer. It is likely that a few people are addicted to the Internet, but that's a far cry from occasioning the huge headlines on the subject. Even the Finns understand that.
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