_________________________________________________________________ VOLUME 2, ISSUE 2 PSYCHNEWS INTERNATIONAL Feb-Mar 1997 _________________________________________________________________ SECTION A: EDITORIAL -------------------------------------------------------- INTERNETWORKING POTENTIALS - TOOL AND PEOPLE APPROACHES - 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.