Doctors in South Korea are reporting a surge in “digital dementia” among young people who have become so reliant on electronic devices that they can no longer remember everyday details like their phone numbers.
South Korea is one of the most digitally connected nations in the world and the problem of internet addiction among both adults and children was recognised as far back as the late 1990s.
That is now developing into the early onset of digital dementia – a term coined in South Korea – meaning a deterioration in cognitive abilities that is more commonly seen in people who have suffered a head injury or psychiatric illness.
“Over-use of smartphones and game devices hampers the balanced development of the brain,” Byun Gi-won, a doctor at the Balance Brain Centre in Seoul, told the JoongAng Daily newspaper.
“Heavy users are likely to develop the left side of their brains, leaving the right side untapped or underdeveloped,” he said.
The right side of the brain is linked with concentration and its failure to develop will affect attention and memory span, which could in as many as 15 per cent of cases lead to the early onset of dementia.
Sufferers are also reported to suffer emotional underdevelopment, with children more at risk than adults because their brains are still growing.
The situation appears to be worsening, doctors report, with the percentage of people aged between 10 and 19 who use their smartphones for more than seven hours every day leaping to 18.4 per cent, an increase of seven per cent from last year.
More than 67 per cent of South Koreans have a smartphone, the highest in the world, with that figure standing at more than 64 per cent in teenagers, up from 21.4 per cent in 2011, according to the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning.
Dr Manfred Spitzer, a German neuroscientist, published a book titled “Digital Dementia” in 2012 that warned parents and teachers of the dangers of allowing children to spend too much time on a laptop, mobile phone or other electronic devices.
Dr Spitzer warned that the deficits in brain development are irreversible and called for digital media to be banned from German classrooms before children become “addicted.”