There are parents who complain that the Internet has swept their children off their feet, so much so that they do not seem to be interested in anything else. They ignore their studies, parents, social responsibilities and even ignore their health by not playing enough outdoor and indoor games. In other words, the Internet can act like an addictive drug.
Is it possible that the same thing was said about television not too many years ago? This is a problem that is more related to the character of the children concerned than with the nature of the Internet. One cannot blame the knife because there are some people who use it to stab other people.
Character-building now seems to have gone out, perhaps because it has become a more complicated subject than it ever was. In a diverse, democratic and globalised society like urban India is today, numerous value systems overlap, and it is difficult to bring up children on a single, fixed set of values. It may have been possible once; it is not so now.
Internet-addiction can only be overcome by exercising self-control, but that is an art that the children must learn. Parents and teachers have a key role to play in conditioning children to effectively use the Internet.
The Internet has also been widely misused by the pornography and gambling industries. Although many governments have woken up to the dangers of the situation, their efforts, by and large, have not paid off.
There are different ways of tackling the situation. In Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, major Internet service providers have voluntarily agreed to limit access to sites blacklisted by the police. At the individual level, parents and guardians can avail of content-control software to block offensive websites on individual computers or networks.
At the risk of repetition one must reiterate that the best safeguard against the abuses of the Internet is one’s character. According to Swami Vivekananda, to mould character should be the primary purpose of education. Character is like a mighty rock that can withstand the unruly waves of unwanted emotions without getting dislodged.
If this sounds like asking for too much, one must also be frank enough to admit that, by and large, for whatever reason, our educational institutions have not given character-training the importance it deserves. One result is that wonderful inventions like the Internet, which can be such an unmitigated blessing to us, also lends itself to terms like ‘bane’ and ‘curse’!
But that is how the world goes, I suppose!