47 million Thai people are now regular internet users in Thailand with an average usage of 5 hours and 13 minutes every day. This has led to the emergence of a health complaint known as Internet Addiction Disorder which is both a mental health threat and physical one akin to illegal or prescription drugs.
A landmark study shows clearly how the internet will be the driving force in Thai society for the next five years at least. The phenomenon is expected to accelerate its transformative impact on the Thai economy and society.
This will be good news for some and decidedly bad news for others as life experiences, interaction with each other and day to day business moves inexorably online. However, what is now emerging and what must urgently be addressed, is the serious health threat being posed by the extent of internet usage in Thailand as in other countries.
A landmark study involving Google as well as Temasek Holdings in Singapore and Bain & Co., the management consulting firm has found that Thailand’s internet usage is at an all-time high and still growing.
Now 47 million internet users in Thailand
There are currently 47 million Thai people using the internet for an average period of 5 hours 13 minutes daily driving a number of key online industries that are predicted to expand exponentially in the next 5 to 6 years.
The internet audience in the Southeast Asian region has grown from 100 million users in 2015 to 360 million today.
In Thailand, internet usage for such activities as ride-hailing, online tourism, e-commerce and online media use is forging ahead with the Thai internet economy predicted to grow from ฿16 billion to ฿50 billion by 2025. That’s a 29% annual rise.
Huge changes to the Thai economy due to the internet
The extent of internet usage is known already to be dramatically altering the economy in the kingdom where more people are purchasing goods online leading old retail stores to struggle while courier and warehousing firms cannot cope with the level of expansion.
This e-commerce area of the economy is growing by a massive 54% per annum and shows no signs of cooling off.
In fact, more firms are joining the chase which will soon lead to even cheaper prices and more choice for consumers as competition kicks in.
This could well lead to the death of the traditional retail sector or at least those outlets that are less competitive or with marginal profitability.
Thai banks in 2019, notably Siam Commercial Bank, have adopted a more cautious approach to loans and banking facilities to the small retail sector as the impact of e-commerce reaches a critical point in the market.
May not be a panacea for Thai economic planners
Thailand’s economic planners have also identified a digital future as the key to a higher income Thai economy.
However, while it may be necessary for Thailand to adapt to digital technology, other countries in Southeast Asia are also pursuing the same aim.
The Philippines is the most connected country in the region and it also has a decidedly younger population and demographic profile than Thailand.
There may also be an overlap between the age of the population and the speed of transformation to a fully digital society.
It may not be as easy as Thai policymakers would hope to avoid the demographics problem that the kingdom faces even with the shift online.
E-commerce, online tourism, ride-hailing and online media are the key growth areas to 2025
The ride-hailing service sector is also driving an increasing trend, particularly in Thailand, where consumers have taken to eating at home with food sourced and ordered at restaurants supplying this new growth area which is bolted on to the growth of ride-hailing and transport services delivered by app.
Impact on the hotel and accommodation industry
Online tourism is also growing although this has long been an internet phenomenon as users book hotel accommodation and travel services. It goes without saying that this leaves the old fashioned travel agency concerns with a problem.
This new industry has also been able to facilitate the development of Thailand’s tourism industry into more remote parts of the country and led to smaller accommodation providers, something which has negatively impacted the larger tourist centres and the more traditional accommodation providers such as large hotels. This could also have implications in the long run in terms of continued investment in Thailand in the hotel sector.
It is also bringing about a more competitive hotel and accommodation industry simply because it empowers the customer at all levels.
Media consumption is rapidly moving online
The fourth area of growth, as internet usage skyrockets, is online media which is predicted to expand from ฿3 billion now to ฿7 billion by 2025 as more and more, Thai people consume their news and entertainment online.
One of the fascinating insights to come out the new research was that the longer users spend on any particular website, the more likely that they were to spend money or generate revenue.
Raises questions about the future of society and now the beginning of real health concerns
However, this fundamental shift in human behaviour is also raising serious questions not only about the future of society and how business is conducted but also serious concerns relating to the future of society.
Thailand’s anti-fake news centre went live on Friday 2nd of November as governments around the world have become aware of the power of the internet and how it can be used.
But at a more personal level, there are also now very disturbing misgivings relating to the very real threat posed by the internet to both mental and physical human health. This is something that threatens billions of people worldwide.
Internet Addiction Disorder is real and a threat
Scientists and medical experts have identified a condition developing among adults who are becoming addicted to internet usage.
Labelled as Internet Addiction Disorder, the syndrome is causing real and physical changes to the brain leading to significant and debilitating effects to mental capability among some people.
Inability to delineate priorities or make decisions
One key symptom of this disorder is an inability among affected adults to prioritise issues and get ahead with daily undertakings and tasks.
Scientists have identified that continuous internet usage impacts the prefrontal area of the brain. It is a similar effect to that experienced by those who continuously use illegal narcotics or prescription drugs as well as those are addicted to alcohol.
The internet has become an information drug where people derive pleasure from absorbing news or being titillated.
Physical change to the matter in the brain
Scientists and medical experts investigating this have recorded physical changes to the brain matter of those suffering from the debilitating effects of addictive internet usage causing changes to the amount of grey and white matter in the brain.
Thai boy attacked his mother with a knife
It is a very similar experience to those engaged in internet gaming activity which a more extreme example.
Recently in Thailand, a young boy lashed out at his mother and threatened her with a knife after she intruded on and interrupted his gaming activities online with friends around the world.
The normally well-behaved boy later went on his knees to apologise to his mother but his judgment and sense of priorities were temporarily skewed from the effects of this disorder.
Time to be on guard and evaluate
It is clearly a new challenge among many posed by the internet as society discovers that this new force in our lives has quite a few negative consequences both for some in the economy and society as well as our health and well being.
It is certainly time to be on our guard against where this online world is taking us and evaluate the dangers as well as the benefits.