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This is an age of computers and the Internet. The world is caught in the mesh of world wide web (www). Human life is revolving around this new phenomenon. Social media is the necessary ingredient of this technological growth. In public life, the use of social media has become a new normal. Right from the children, youth and the adults, everybody is indulging in social media activities without any restraints and constraints. This has given birth to a kind of new social disease known as "digital addiction". In India, the Digital India programme was launched in July 2015 by the Centre to transform the country into a "digitally empowered society and knowledge economy". Under the aegis of this flagship programme, India has made rapid strides in the field of digitalisation in multiple areas. According to industry figures, 44.6 crore Indians use smartphones, and 56 crore citizens have access to the Internet. These smartphones are, along with desktop and laptop computers, are the convenient tools for uploading various social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, ShareChat etc. India is the largest user base of social networking platform, Facebook, with over 400 million users. India is also having the largest number of users of another popular social media platform, WhatsApp with close to 500 million in number. Not only this but also, the average Indian consumer of social media spends more time on social networks than his counterpart world over. According to a report by The Global Web Index's Social Media Trends 2019, based on a survey conducted in 45 countries among 278,000 respondents, including 15,000 Indians, digital consumers in India spend around 2.4 hours every day on social networks and messaging that is a little more than the global daily average of 2 hours and 24 minutes.

It was not long ago when social media was considered a technological boon to society. In the beginning, social media enabled people to stay connected with friends and family across the globe, to forge new relationships and interact with people on the same wavelength. It also helped them to get more exposure to other cultures and events around the world expanding their mental horizon. Social media also provided a chance to everyone to be connected in nuclear households at the time joint families were facing breakdowns. However, all these good intentions are facing rough weather due to overuse of social media. This is aptly called "digital addiction" or social media attraction. According to American website, social media addiction is described as " a behavioural addiction characterised by being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to social media that it impairs other important life areas." This uncontrollable urge to log on is causing a social upheaval in the society. Some prominent forms of digital media addiction may be enumerated as such:

1.Over Exposure to Smartphones:

People in India are so used to social media that there seems to be no appropriate time for browsing on social media. Even in the dead of night, they tend to view the posts, pictures and likes etc. on social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram etc. According to a study conducted by the Vivo-CMR (CyberMediaResearch) titled "Smartphones and their Impact on Human Relationships, 2021, which surveyed 2,000 respondents in the 18-45 age group in New Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, and Kolkata, came to conclusion that 84% of the cohort checked their cell phones within the first 15 minutes of waking up, and 46 per cent picked up the phone at least five times in an hour. Though the majority of them confessed that the overuse of phones was detrimental to their mental and physical health, and was affecting the relationships, 74% said that they could not put their devices away because it made them moody and depressed.

Even the small children and toddlers are not immune from this addiction. According to a report by the Indian Academy of Paediatrics titled 'Indian Academy of Paediatrics Guidelines on Screen Time and Digital Wellness in Infants, Children and Adolescents' in 2021, it came to light that even two-month-old babies are being exposed to the mobile phone. It further stated that on an average, new-borns in India get their first exposure to smart phones (96%) or TV screens (89%) within 10 months. This is in contrast with the recommendations of the American Academy of Paediatrics which exhorts that there should be zero digital media exposure for children under 18 months, and only an hour a day for children aged two to five.

However, adults are the most likely to fall prey to digital addiction. This has been confirmed by a meta-analysis of 50 studies in 19 Indian states published in medical journal The BMJ in 2021. According to this study, the risk of internet addiction in college-going students amounts to between 20 and 40 per cent.

In this vicious net of digital addiction, the elderly persons are not lagging behind. In a study by the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry in 2020, it was found that 5.2 hours of daily screen time was availed by the persons above 65 years of age. It is much higher than two hours of daily screen time in addition to work-related screen time recommended by the doctors. Unregulated and irrational use of digital devices is shown to have adverse effects on the users' mental and physical health. It was amply manifested during the Covid-19 when social media became the main source of social networking. In that period, the adverse effects reported on the elders were panic, self-diagnosis and insomnia. The main reason was that people generally absorbed the matter available online without exercising their discretion or judgment. Moreover, the people lost sleep on account of reading on WhatsApp and treating information as the gospel truth. Further, an alarming growth was also witnessed in social media and internet-related anxiety among the elderly since the pandemic as more people remained indoors, and there was visible reduction in the offline activities.

2.Binge watching on OTT platforms

Over-the-Top (OTT) has made a phenomenal change in the entertainment industry all over the world. Different kinds of experiments are being conducted frequently in the field of cinema, TV serials, Web series, docudramas etc. which attract the viewers to the extent of addiction. In a web series, there are numerous episodes. The viewers tend to watch the show continuously till the end, and not episode- wise. This is called binge-watching. It takes a lot of time at night. Gradually, this habit turns into sleepless nights, resulting in various health hazards. In a study of 570 urban Indians-78.5 per cent of them Gen Z and 21.5 per cent millennials, by the data science division of media company, Dentsu, it was found that there was an increase of 23 per cent in binge-watching in India in the year 2020. Nearly half of the 17-to-35-year-old respondents spent eight to nine hours a day binge-watching digital content. This is twice the global average of four hours a day. Further, there appears to be an unabashed display of sex and violence in their contents. There is no censorship worth the name. The consequences are unnerving. According to a report by Let'sOTT, an aggregator that covers over 50 OTT platforms, Mastram, a web series based on an eponymous, fictional porn writer from the 1980s, received a staggering 1.10 crore views on a single day, July 3,2020, on MX Player. This 10-part web series became the most viewed Indian series during the pandemic. At the same time, Ekta Kapoor's AltBalaji, known for steamy web shows such as Gandi Baat, also witnessed a 60 per cent spike in its viewership. There is no looking back since then.

3.Online Gaming:

This is comparatively a new phenomenon which is getting crazier day by day. Not only the children and adolescents, even the adults are indulging in online gaming. So much so that it has earned a tag of 'disorder' in recent times. The World Health Organization has now classified 'gaming disorder' as a mental health condition. The Indian gaming upswing began in 2016 when the extraordinary effect of the reality experience of PokemonGo was felt worldwide. The year 2018 proved to be another milestone as the gaming community in India adopted blockbuster multiplayer games. Nowadays, PUBG has a large number of young followers. In Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh, 19-year-old Vasu Vishwakarma faked his own kidnapping in order to extract ransom money to play games on PUBG. Besides PlayerUnknown'sBattleground (PUBG), another scintillating hit has been Ludo King, a mobile game based on the classic board game. It recorded over 180 million installations in 2018. According to the data made available from the report of Mobile Marketing Association's Power of Mobile Gaming in India, three out of four gamers in India play mobile games at least twice a day. It further said, "With over 250 million mobile gamers, India is one of the top five gaming countries, globally". Average daily time spent by Indians on mobile games crosses the one-hour mark, more than the 45 minute they spend on streaming platforms. This time is spent on prime-time TV as most gamers play most during 7pm-to-midnight slot. According to a report of 2021, by the Boston Consulting Group, which interviewed 3,200 respondents across 21 locations in India, a rise of 40 per cent was witnessed in the number of users of online gaming in the year 2019-2020, being the largest growth in the recent years. In another report, The India Mobile Gaming Report,2021, the largest increase in the use of mobile phones for gaming purposes has been noticed in Tier 3 towns, with Siwan in Bihar reporting a 123 per cent rise in gamers, and Baimanagoi in Chhattisgarh a 179 per cent rise in 2020-2021. Factually, the top 30 Tier 3 towns in the report account for a 170 per cent increase in the number of gamers in India between 2020 and 2021. The gaming addiction is not limited to children and young people. The gaming addiction has spread its tentacles within the category of adults also. The Digital Wellness Report of 2022 by software company NortonLifeLock, which surveyed 1,572 city-based Indian adults, mentioned that 60 per cent of parents spent as much time playing mobile games as their children.

Sometime ago, a few online games proved to be dangerously addictive for the teenagers in India. Blue Whale Challenge was such a game which had successfully developed thousands of followers among them. This game encouraged the youngsters to take risks every day during the running of the game, and finally forced many of them to end their lives by themselves. The structure of this game was that over 50 days the victim was given around 50 self-harm tasks, designed to culminate in suicide. India’s IT ministry later directed top internet platforms like Google and Facebook to remove all links to the online games. The UNICEF India, accordingly, released a document with a list of FAQs for parents on the online game. The 'honest' app, Sarahah, encouraged its users to make confessions online. This app could be uploaded on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter or SnapChat and soon became a social media rage. That often resulted in harmful consequences such as cyber bullying, for the young users who had to face depression and other mental hazards. These online games are generally considered to be harmless but the shocking incidents of suicide, murder, extortion etc. come to light off and on, having roots in such games.

4.Porn Watching:

Online availability of numberless porn sites has enhanced the number of viewers of porn exponentially in recent times. Once again, all age groups are addicted to this watching. In 2015, a Google Trends report found six Indian cities namely, Delhi, Pune, Mumbai, Howrah, Unnao and Bangalore, among the top 10 places in the world. A 2018 report of the Pornhub indicated that an Indian visitor to a porn site spends an average of 23 minutes 8 seconds, against the global average of 10 minutes 13 seconds. In fact, any content related to porn works is like a magnet for its Indian viewers.

The India Child Protection Fund's study of 2020 found a 95 per cent rise in porn-watching despite 857 porn sites being banned in India.

Evidence and Harmful Effects of Digital Addiction

One of the prime attractions of social media is its complex system of rewards. "It releases." says Dr. Nimesh Desai, Director of the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS) in Delhi, "happy hormones in your brain." A constant flow of notifications, retweets, likes, shares and comments are the basic ingredients of the social reward learning environment of many young children at present. These are the carriers of a huge rush of happy hormones such as oxytocin and dopamine to their brains and rewiring neurological circuits resulting in more craving for the same. Here, it is important to note that the brain's reward centres happen to be the most active when talking about oneself. As a result, mere posting of one's pictures or writing about self invariably releases happy hormones and encourages repeat behaviour. In this connection, the most intense rewarding behaviour stems from online gaming platforms, which actually provides rewards for tasks. That explains the root cause of gaming addiction.

There is enough evidence to show that the overuse of digital devices causes a visible impact on people's emotional, physical, and social health. These ill-effects can be enumerated as such:

  1. The most alarming factor is that going online can alter the user's brain itself. According to ongoing research at Harvard University, there are signs of early maturing of children from the use of phones due to the premature thinning of their cortex, the outermost layer of the brain that is instrumental in processing information from the five senses of the human body. In medical terms, this phenomenon is known as neuroplasticity.
  2. It was also found from the above study that heavy social media use leads to lower transactive memory, which decides what information to store and what to forget.
  3. Such cognitive issues become visible from the infancy itself. Toddlers are showing signs of developmental delays in speech, language, and social skills due to over-exposure to digital media.
  4. Low levels of pro-social behaviour increased the risk of gamers developing addictive behaviour.
  5. There is a direct effect of screen on the nervous system. Due to looking at the screen, the nervous circuit is rewired because of the different information and situations experienced online. Not only this also, the increase in screen time is resulting in eye and neck problems, obesity, and even cardiac issues.
  6. Online addiction is also compromising the social and emotional skills of the people. Children especially, are getting all their entertainment on virtual media. Consequently, they do not feel the need for family or friends. They are also becoming averse to reading or learning anything in the presence of cartoons and mobile phones.
  7. The presence of social media is causing low self-esteem among others. They tend to become victims of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) syndrome. This happens when they read about the success stories of others on screen.
  8. A new phenomenon of "Doom Scrolling" is taking root among the viewers because of continuous exposure to negative news related to war, crimes, Covid pandemic, economic slowdown etc. resulting in enhanced anxiety in them. Such anxiety peaked during the Covid pandemic when all kinds of misinformation and negative news were flooding on the virtual media.

Ways to Recovery

This is high time to search for the appropriate methods to check this digital addiction. Some suggested ways are as under:

  • The opening of de-addiction centres by the government and the NGOs needs to be stressed at the outset. In this regard, Tamil Nadu became the first state to launch internet de-addiction centres at all government medical colleges and hospitals in December 2021. Kerala also announced plans to open such centres. In October 2021, the Kozhikode District Legal Services Society, in association with the district health department, started E-Mochan, a clinic that helps identify Internet addiction for early diagnosis and effective treatment. Besides, Sakra World Hospital in Bengaluru, Arya Hospital in Chandigarh, Anandvan Addiction Liberation and Rehabilitation Centre in Pune and the Alpha Healing Centre in Vadodara, Gujarat, are among the prominent private centres having programmes for gaming, digital or internet addicts. AIIMS and NIMHANS are also attending a large number of such patients afflicted with the digital addiction.

  • The support of the family is a must to deal with this situation. In any case, no forcible action from the other family members is recommended. The problem needs to be controlled and cured with patience only. There may be different routes to amicably reach the positive results. For example, in a case, the addicted person was allowed to use a cell phone in the night to talk to his friends and vent his pent up feelings. In another case, a 'device-free' lunch was initiated in which all the family members resolved to take lunch without carrying any cell phone or other such devices. Further, 'digital fasts' were observed in some families to stay away from digital devices on particular days. Confiscation of mobile phones from the children or the addicted adults generate equal reaction which aggravates the problem.

  • The lifting of unwanted restrictions on the use of digital devices may prove to be beneficial in reducing anxiety and severe Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). On the contrary, it may usher the phase of Joy of Missing Out (JOMO).

  • Deletion of various apps from the addicted person's mobile phone is a good strategy. Further, encouraging reading habits in print can do a lot of good.

  • Finding new hobbies is a definitive step towards filling the gap caused by the activities online. It has helped many people addicted to online obsession.

  • Encouraging offline social interaction and developing social circles is a big boon. The digital addiction takes grip of any person when he is cut off socially. Thus, the affected person should be encouraged to find new friends and acquaintances.

  • In case of adults, self-regulation is the best panacea for a healthy and digital addiction-free life. This attitude is adopted by the kids in a natural way.

  • The use of technology is also in practice to counter the adverse effects of existing technology. There are apps like Netnanny and Kaspersky to help parents keep tabs on what their children are watching online. However, the best way is to share quality time with the children.

  • At present, the digital education of a large number of parents is either lacking or limited. Many times, they don't know what is happening. They are unable to find out the exact nature of the online activities of their children. This situation must be remedied at the earliest. If the parents are enlightened, they will monitor the online activities of their children effectively.

  • The menace of digital addiction can be effectively ruled out if the parents take the right steps from the beginning. The children should be taught the proper use of mobile phones and the computers and the requisite digital rules to be followed from the time they are given these devices for the first time.


Social media has brought a sea change in the lives of human beings. While on the one hand, it has extended the network of human interaction, it has shrunk the domain of their day-to-day activities. Today, people travel to and fro from their homes to workplaces, and after that they confine themselves to the realm of digital devices such as social media platforms. This excessive use of social media has brought into its wake certain mental health disorders and other health issues which pose a new threat to the existing social fabric of the country. This digital addiction will certainly increase with the augmentation of artificial intelligence, algorithms, machine learning and other technological developments in the offing. So, it is imperative to take up the challenge and ensure ameliorative measures. The malaise of digital addiction can be cured either by self-regulation or with the help of family and friends. Society owes a special responsibility in this context. The need to train and educate the parents digitally is urgently required. The appropriate actions, legal or otherwise, on the part of the government need to be stressed repeatedly. If timely action is not taken by all stakeholders, things will go out of hand. Digital de-addiction is curable and preventable. But for this, enough will power is required from all who cares for the well-being of the society. 

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  • Ullekh NP, The Network Nation, OPEN, p.54, 30 May 2022.
  • Sonali Acharjee, Time To Detox, India Today, p.36, May 9, 2022.
  •  Ibid
  •  Ibid.p.36.
  •  Ibid
  •  Ibid
  •  Ibid
  • Ibid, p.38.
  • Giridhar Jha, Outlook, p.29, August 16,2021.
  • Sonali Acharjee, Time To Detox, India Today, p.40, May 22,2022.
  • Sindhu.Hariharan, Mobile gaming gets more time than video streaming in India, The Times of India, December 17,2018.
  • Sonali Acharjee, Time To Detox, India Today,p.40, May 22,2022.
  • Editorial, The Times of India, August 17, 2017.
  • Aditi Vatsa, Take measures to protect children from Blue Whale: Maneka to schools, The Indian Express, September 2,2017.
  • Giridhar Jha, Adults Only, Outlook, p.28, August 16,2021.
  • Sonali Acharjee, Time To Detox, India Today, p.40, May 9, 2022.
  •  Ibid p.42.
  •  Ibid p. 44.