Sunkyo Kwon

The  toddler phase of  Internet growth for the psychological
and psychiatric  disciplines  is  over.  This  is not to say
that   working   with  the  now generally  well   accessible
information  and  communication  tools  has   exhausted  its
(market) potential,  but  clever marketing people  have  de-
mystified  the  Internet,  and made it  possible for a large
number of professionals to network with relative ease.  This
is undoubtedly a great enrichment, both for the practitioner
and the scientist. However,  there are always two sides of a
coin.   We  know of the  tremendous  benefits that Internet-
working affords,  and many  are also  aware of  some harmful
effects  and phenomena;  just to name a few: Flame wars, ex-
cessive commercialism,  magnified  information explosion and
loss of bandwidth due to trivia and redundancy, software and
information  piracy,  world wide waits, cyberaddiction. This
article will not discuss these consequences but zoom in on a
particular aspect  that should be  of particular interest to
the   PsychNews   International  readers,  e.g.  individuals
working with or  for human beings:  The Internet is a medium
for the people,  run and used by people, and it functions as
a  service  to the people.  As  simple  as  this sounds, the
implications are grave.

What goes on in the mind of the psychologist or psychiatrist
who  uses  the  Internet?   Like  most  other users,  at the
beginner's stage,  he or she  may be in awe  and feel  over-
whelmed by the opportunities  that the medium offers. Others
may subject the tools at hand to a "critical test",  for in-
stance  by running literature  searches or  participating in
Usenet newsgroups or emailing  lists to find that the medium
is not for them. On the other hand, they may eventually find
a  good  balance of  newsgroups,  email  discussion  forums,
favorite websites or  Internet search devices  that they can
work  comfortably with,  enhancing  their own efficiency and
productivity. At this level, optimal usage is possible.  The
attitude of the user  can be labeled  the Internet-as-a-tool
approach.  As  people working for people,  we should however
also be aware of the potential  new qualities that Internet-
working creates because people are involved.  Such qualities
may  include negative side effects,  but also  possibilities
for systematic usage and new kinds of services. This quality
has always been inherent in Internet usage,  but it has been
brought  to full awareness and  discussed  heatedly when its
limits became known -- even before  serious applications had
been  tested at  full breadth and  depth.   We refer to this
"other side of the Net" as the Internet-for-people approach.

The Internet is a service of people for people. It may carry
distinct  advantages   over  face-to-face  interaction   and
conventional tools for communication,  like mail, fax or the
teleophone.  With  the  new possibilities that  the Internet
affords,  we  witness all the  kinds of  human behavior  and
interaction  as in real life:  Some are the same,  some  are
magnified, and others more rare because of the nature of the
medium -- and they  are not  a 100% harmonious;  the  Global
Village  has become a reality for us privileged few,  but it
surely does  not mirror just the good in all of us,  and the
sense of  community experienced  by cybernauts  is  just  as
vulnerable to crises and  mishaps as in other relationships.
While researchers  have started to investigate  these pheno-
mena  in a scientific manner, it is hard to keep up with the
technical developments.  Once there  were  email  discussion
groups, the newsgroups, MOOs and MUDs,  and they will surely
stay with us -- but on the other hand, we encounter Internet
telephony  and rapid sound transmissions,  small-band video-
conferencing,  and all kinds  of interactive web magic  that
seem well worth  a try to  construct  variants  of extending
services beyond marketing related  to "mental health" to the
information superhighway.  I  am  not  explicitly  endorsing
therapy and counseling  through the Internet,  given all the
ethical  and professional problems  that surround  its aura,
but it needs to be re-thought  what draws people to the Net,
what kinds of reinforcements  they get,  or what  gives this
medium its special quality to enhance or suppress  positive,
enlightening,  possibly carthartic emotional  reactions.  We
need to know this both as serious users of the Internet, but
also  as professionals that work for the  good of people  to
educate  ourselves  about  malignant  and beneficial effects
that accompany Internet-for-people usage.  This  is not only
practical knowledge for wise use of the Net beyond the "tool
approach",  it may  soon become  a  necessity,  climbing the
rungs  of the  research-priority ladder,  although  at  this
point, such a suggestion looks exotic and far-fetched.  With
time passing, we need to be prepared to resort  to validated
knowledge  bases  once new Internetworking  attempts  become
possible that  open up new dimensions  in influencing  human
experience and behavior.  The Internet is not just a "tool",
and it is surely  more than just a fancy get-people-together
opportunity.  The  psychological principles  that we examine
and  apply  to the  real world  ought  to  be  tested in the
virtual world too,  to realistically gauge the real pitfalls
and potentials.