With lakhs of Mumbaikars remaining glued to their mobile phones, mental health personnel have raised an alarm about the adverse impact this obsession has on interpersonal and family relations. Sonali Patankar, a volunteer and counsellor with an NGO called Responsible Netism, said the craze is leading to depression, high anxiety levels and even suicidal thoughts. To counter the menace, Responsible Netism is trying to create awareness and pull out people from cyber addiction.
The perils of digital addiction
A parent, Chhaya Sarang (not her real name) said her daughter, a special child, was a victim of “cyber bullying” in which her friends sent her threatening messages or poked fun at her. Sarang then woke up to the issue and decided to approach an NGO for help. As a result of such incidents and warnings by experts, many Mumbaikars are opting for digital detox and deciding to stay away from mobiles for a few hours every day or once a week.
Said Shalini Srivastav, “I stopped using my cell phone on Sundays and I am very happy doing that. I am able to provide quality time to my family and conversations are flowing once again.”
How the addiction is 'destroying' lives
Ulhas Sarvade (name changed) still remembers and talks vividly and empathetically about the day his only son asked him to “save” him. “Please save me, he said, completely broken from inside. Online gaming addiction destroyed his life, health and had put him in debt,” said Sarvade of his 30-year-old son Anek.
His mechanical engineer son got into mobile gaming during work-life nearly five years ago. It aggravated during the Covid lockdown. “He was employed with a national company for field work and work satisfaction was not up to the mark. He would play games and even come late sometimes. During Covid, his movement got restricted considerably. That is when he got full time into online gaming and spent eight to 10 hours on his mobile. He had won some money initially that kept on encouraging him to play more,” said Sarvade. He came to know about Anek winning and losing a tad late in the day through family and friends from whom he had been borrowing money regularly.
He said Anek was an outgoing, co-operative person but became cruel in his reactions, hypersensitive, withdrawn and depressed. “He would shout and not listen. He had taken loans, including from the bank,” said Sarvade, adding that Anek gained weight, stopped social activity and meeting friends, lost focus of his work and eventually lost out on his job. In the first year they repaid Rs14 lakh of loan and Rs6 lakh next year.
'Fear of other problems stopped us'
“Once I even thought of approaching the police to complain but fear of other problems opening up stopped us. When a person is grown up, you do not know what to do and how to handle things,” Sarvade said as the family tried to convince Anek to get distracted and take interest in other activities. The family now hopes he will do well in the IT course he has taken up and won’t leave mid-way.
Digital detox campaign in Sangli
Interestingly, a little known village in Sangli is spearheading a digital detox campaign. Over 3,000 villagers from Mohityanche Vadgaon in Sangli have started a unique experiment that has caught the attention of the world media. Every evening at 7pm, a siren goes off here and all villagers put down their devices for an hour.
It was the idea of the village sarpanch Vijay Mohite, who was increasingly worried over the addiction to mobile phones. He realised that people are not talking to each other. Conversations within family, too, were on the decline. Even children were playing less. After consulting other elders, he decided to blow the siren sharp at 7pm daily when everyone was expected to keep aside their phones.
How the campaign is helping people
The campaign was introduced to ensure that children play, talk to each other and family, share responsibility and educate themselves through other modes instead of mobiles after school hours. Besides children, it was to get one away from the compulsive habit of looking and depending on electronic devices every few minutes for information, entertainment et al.
With a view to encourage a similar campaign in Mumbai, the Free Press Journal has decided to publish a series of articles highlighting the need for digital detox. The series will campaign against mobile addiction and attempt to bring conversations back into people’s lives.
(If you have stories of the harm caused by digital addiction or if you are doing digital detox please email your experience to email@example.com)