by Thu Huong Le
Since I bought my phablet (a device somewhere between a smartphone and a tablet) several months ago, I have been constantly plugged.
That term means that I am constantly online, although sometimes I stay invisible. My emails, text messages and Facebook notifications can pop up at any time on screen, as well as breaking news.
Don't be mistaken. I am far from being tech savvy, I am not a socialite or a Facebook addict, and I prefer not to show off my device. I own a phablet because I was lured by the sweeping power of technology, and I felt that the device had the power to connect me with the outside world.
I am not certainly alone.
Just ask those who belong to the 8X generation in Viet Nam (born between 1980-1989). Some might remember the days when having a cell phone was a dream, and that only their father - perhaps a businessman - could have one. And his was the size of a brick.
Remember the days before millions of column inches were devoted to upcoming smartphone launches in the US, UK and South Korea. Those days are here now, and they are here to stay.
Fifteen years after the Internet came to the country it now seems that everyone has a cell phone, from the lady selling vegetables in the market to the urban professionals, teenagers and even young kids who seem to be connected all the time.
Nowadays, you can see young Vietnamese people constantly chatting online, playing games, checking Facebook and sharing almost everything going on in their lives. Even when surrounded by family or friends, their eyes stay glued to their screens.
Nguyen Thanh Nguyen, a 23-year-old who works for an auditing firm in Ha Noi, says she can't help constantly checking her Facebook account whenever she has free time, approximately 30 times every day.
"I can't live without Facebook," she said. "I can't go on without knowing what my friends are doing, where they're eating, what they're buying, whether they're in a relationship or not."
Nguyen admits that her parents are sometimes annoyed at her for leaving the dinner table to check her smartphone for Facebook notifications.
"I could spend hours on Facebook, changing my profile picture or commenting on other things. My parents don't understand that my Facebook account is like my face now. I need to protect it."
According to statistics released in October 2012 by We Are Social, a London-based social media agency, there are at least 8.5 million Facebook users in Viet Nam.
The agency says that the shift in the power of social media is the most dramatic change in the country's digital landscape this year.
According to Simon Kemp, managing director of the agency's Singapore branch - which produced reports on Viet Nam in both 2011 and 2012 - a new Vietnamese user joins Facebook every three seconds, and the site has overtaken Zing to become the country's most-used social network.
"We predict particularly strong growth in Viet Nam," Kemp tells me in an email message. "The country has a relatively young demographic who are well-educated and technologically savvy."
"Social networks have a real relevance to our everyday lives, and people like to use them when they're out and about – especially young people," he adds.
Socialbakers, another company providing analysis of social media and digital developments estimates the number of Facebook users in Viet Nam at 9.4 million, which represents about 10.5 per cent of the country's population and nearly 39 per cent of the number of internet users.
The largest demographic of people using the site is currently 18-24, followed by 25-34.
However, it is not just teenagers and young urban professionals finding it hard to resist the temptation of technology.
Nguyen Thi Kieu Trang, a 34-year-old mother with an eight-year old and a five-year old in Ha Noi, says that both her children have known how to use an iPad and play games on the internet for several years.
"As parents, we were not happy when our kids came home from school thinking of nothing but using the iPad," Trang says. "They spent hardly any time talking to us and felt cranky when they were disturbed from their games."
As a response, she began limiting their iPad use to once or twice per day during the weekend, and only for a maximum time of 30 minutes.
Pham Duc Chuan, a psychologist from a Ha Noi-based centre studying the psychology of children, says that parents should not be too worried about losing their kids to the internet, providing that they provide them with a balanced environment.
"The parents must be able to create a fun living environment that make the children feel that they can have fun with their parents, not just the internet," he said.
But still, it is difficult for parents and elders who feel they are being left of the technological world of the young.
Nguyen Thanh Thuy, a 58-year-old in Ha Noi, bemoans the fact that she does not know what her daughter does online every night and why she stays up so late.
"She talks to me when she needs something. She has other stuff online," Thuy says.
In early 2011, the Wall Street Journal ran a story which talked about the case of a 50-year-old clinical trial researcher from Maryland, who became fed up with the way her family dispersed to separate computers each evening.
She decided to unplug them for a short-time. No one was allowed to use any technological device. The paper referred to it as a "technology cleanse."
However, when everyone sat down at the dinner table nobody knew what to talk about.
Sociologists are warning similar signs could be occurring in Asian countries, even where family connections are held as the most important aspect of our lives.
While this trend isn't yet clear, I think that we need to learn how to be smart users of our smartphones and other devices.
While I can't unplug myself for more than two hours, I try not to let my phablet dictate my life.
And at least, for now, I don't get jealous by things I see on Facebook. — VNS