In a compound that looks part boot camp and part rehab center, drill instructors drive young men through military-style obstacle courses while inside, counselors take the lead in group sessions. Welcome to the Jump Up Internet Rescue School in South Korea, believed to be the first of its kind in the world. Its purpose: To help their youths to kick their addiction to cyberspace.

South Korea is the most wired nation on earth, ninety percent of homes connect to cheap, high-speed broadband, with Internet parlors available on practically every street corner. Yet such ready access to the Web has come at a price from a generation of users who seem unable to tear themselves away from their computer screens.

The government has built a network of 140 Internet-addiction counseling center nation-wide to address the issue, among other efforts. The Internet Rescue Camp is the latest initiative and is completely paid-for by the country.

According to The New York Times:

The rescue camp, in a forested area about an hour south of Seoul, was created to treat the most severe cases. This year, the camp held its first two 12-day sessions, with 16 to 18 male participants each time.

One of the participants, Lee Chang-hoon, 15, started using the computer to pass the time while his parents were working and he was home alone. According to the article:

He spent 17 hours a day online, mostly looking at Japanese comics and playing a combat role-playing game called Sudden Attack. He played all night, and skipped school two or three times a week to catch up on sleep. When his parents told him he had to go to school, he reacted violently.

“I don’t have a problem,” Chang-hoon said in an interview three days after starting the camp. “Seventeen hours a day online is fine.”

Yet it is clear that not everyone is on the same page on whether Internet addiction represents a problem. Mike Masnick over at TechCrunch wrote:

For years, we’ve pointed out how ridiculous it is for people to be blaming Internet addictions for things, when almost every case of “internet addiction” that’s demonstrated that the actual problem was something else, and the internet usage was just a way of “escaping” from those other problems.

… On top of that, reports have shown that so-called “internet addictions” tend not to be particularly harmful, and it makes you wonder what the big deal is.

As an IT professional and possibly parent, what is your take on this? Would you rank Internet addiction on the same footing as substance or drug abuse?

Is Internet addiction a growing problem that needs to be swiftly addressed?