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According to a recent survey, 18% of the young generation (pre-teens and teens up to age 24) in Macau are addicted to internet surfing, totaling around 36,000 persons (Ming Pao明報, 28 May 2011). What might come as a surprise is that this figure exceeds that of Hong Kong, which is only 11%. Many of my Hong Kong classmates ask me what causes Macau youngsters to spend more time on the internet than those apparently trendier and “gadgettish” peers in neighbouring Hong Kong? My speculation comes down to a rather simplistic, no-brainer answer: “Because we are small. The problem looms larger by comparison.” What I mean is, it doesn’t take long at all to travel to home after school. We don’t have affordable shopping malls for teenagers to hang out here in Macau. Either you take the trouble of crossing the border gate and shop till you drop in Gong Bei underground city or you simply glue yourself to the desktop first thing arriving home, which can never be beyond a 40-minute max traveling distance from anywhere you attend school. No wonder Macau kids manage to have more leisure in forming an insoluble bond with the wild world wide web.
I know this first hand. I grew up in Hong Kong and each day it takes me three rounds of bus, minibus, and yet another bus before I can get to school. Yet oddly enough I developed a queer habit of composing Chinese poetry during those bored stiff vehicular sojourns. I would try out different sounds and rhymes till the verses fit and flow. And by the time I finally get home wasted, I do what Americans would call “crash” – collapse in bed and sleep like there’s no tomorrow. But after I came to Macau, I realized how much more productive I can be with the time I gained by obviating the need of hustling and clogging through metros and traffic jams. But that also mean I have been spending more time working on my laptop incessantly. I usually keep my MSN, QQ and now Facebook on, and boy, by proportion, I really notice that my Macau students stay online much longer and log on more frequently than my other students in Hong Kong.
Throughout my online interaction with them, two major issues rose to my attention, not without some ounces of worry. First, they tend to reveal more and more their inner world openly in the virtual world, sometimes so bubbly that you wonder what makes them so wired. But, voila, the moment you meet them the next morning in person face to face at school or on the street, they behave shier than a clam (I ain’t that off-putting, am I?). So I do agree with the observations of researches that say growing cyber communication may worsen the darker side of reclusive personality in some young people. The second problem is the euphemized expression “compensated dating” (援交 in Chinese), which is nothing short of internet prostitution. (Dating for pure consensual free sex is yet another issue which can’t be dealt with in full here.) In Hong Kong, the deterring factor that’s been checking the unbridled growth of online prostitution of underaged people is ironically the media. Hong Kong newspapers and rags often feature such offences and soup them up way beyond decency, thus raising social concerns. But in Macau, where news reporting tends to be more factual, sexual offenses appear less sensational, therefore perhaps less addressed. Here’s a scenario. Given the fact that Macau is a small place, should a teenage girl decide to sell her body to a local client met online, it wouldn’t take much time for the deal to be negotiated, paid and sealed. The teenager still gets home in time for dinner and to do homework before anyone in the family will ever notice.
Enough of these disturbing findings. Now, to counteract the fateful trend associated with internet abuse, I know many concerned parents are adamant in trying to nip it at the butt. One ideal solution I have seen done, which takes steel-like determination against all odds, is to have only ONE household computer placed smack middle in the living room in plain sight. This protects not only those need-to-be-disciplined kids, but some naughty grownups too.
©MDTimes/ University of Saint Joseph
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