PHUKET: The efforts of the Culture Ministry (yes, we have one) to certify and brand as “white” certain computer game shops that it sees as ‘appropriate’ for youngsters, may or may not be a good idea.
While the sincerity of the ‘white project’ is unassailable, many see it as presumptuous, interventionist and unlikely to succeed as the result of its own, bulimic requirements for paperwork.
[See feature story, page 18, this week’s Phuket Gazette. Digital subscribers click here to download the full newspaper.]
According to figures offered by the Ministry’s Phuket office, the vast majority of the more than 460 computer game shops on the island are unregistered – even though many cater almost exclusively to youngsters who some describe as “addicted” to gaming. Other regular customers include parents seeking surrogate daycare centers for children.
And parents, particularly those of teenagers, are of course happy to know exactly where their children are after school. There are much worse alternatives given the alarming rate of drug use and violent youth crime in Phuket these days.
To be fair, the game shops do provide important gathering spots for children to learn to interact with peers, to meet new friends, and – to a certain extent – to pick up some basic computer skills. At the very least, the cafés provide affordable access for the many children who do not have a computer at home.
But, unfortunately, too many children spend far too much time in these venues, hundreds of hours a year that would be better invested in homework or playing sports – or, best of all, quality time with parents.
There are also health risks. Internet cafés are always the first places targeted by the Ministry of Public Health during the spread of contagious diseases. Viruses spread readily in crowded places with poor ventilation and shared keyboards. Any number of studies have shown such environments to be almost perfectly designed for spreading microbes.
Nutrition is another concern. Parents know that children left to their own devices will inevitably gorge themselves on pre-packaged junk food and sugar-laden soft drinks – all overpriced and of little or no nutritional value, yet readily available at or near most game shops.
In terms of education, no one would argue that the internet does not offer boundless potential for those with the desire to seek out information and the discretion to asses its reliability.
But a peek inside the door of any internet café shows that most young people are not there in quest of knowledge, but rather to amuse themselves, to chat on line with friends (and total strangers), or, in many cases, to simply get stupefied by the games and kill time.
But perhaps the current caretaker leadership of the Ministry of Culture might better devote its remaining weeks to a cost-benefit analysis of the “white” project, and/or to finding ways to reduce the suffocating paperwork and other impediments to reforming the black sheep.
Another option for those at the helm of ‘Culture’ might be to simply sit back and ponder just what culture it is that has bred the current conflict surrounding parents, technology and the preferences of youth.
Is it Thai culture? Asian culture? Or is it something more global and tenacious than that – like computer culture or family values? If it’s either of the latter, would Thailand’s Culture Ministry really have the moxie to make a dent?