-- AN  ONLINE  PUBLICATION --



                       Sunkyo Kwon

 Once upon a time and not _that_ long ago, everyone using the
 Internet was a pioneer  and/or privileged. Then the Internet
 became more and more  popular. We could  group the  Internet
 users  into the true pioneers, the  experienced and the less
 experienced.       In   the   meantime,  the  Internet  and,
 particularly, the access  to its  tools has  expanded  to  a
 degree that the true pioneers have --usually--  disappeared.
 Now  there are  single fighters and   the industries'  R & D
 departments.   Nowadays,  the Internet gap is widening.  And
 with the technology lag -- the interval between availability
 of  new   technology  and  its  wide-spread  use  (an  issue
 discussed in a  previous PsychNews editorial) -- the  gap is
 getting  even larger.    There  is a full range of different
 Netizens that are not readily classifiable, because the uses
 of the  Net itself have  become extremely  multifacetted and
 there are  multiple profiles of experience depending on  the
 very  heterogeneous domains considered.   A whizz in search-
 engine technology  may  know little  about usenet news group
 dynamics;  a user who could operate a digital library blind-
 folded  may be  lost  if dealing with different  compression
 formats that  ftp (file transfer protocol)  users  are  most
 familiar with.  Chat  users with  buddy clients  may  not be
 cognizant  of WAIS  applications.   So, for the sake of con-
 venience, let  us  boldly  state that in  October 1998, that
 there  are the users   and the non-users of Internet techno-
 logy.   On a global undifferentiated level, the user numbers
 have again  tremendously grown,  but just in mass --  not in
 proportions:  The USA still outbalances all other nations in
 terms of Net presence and activities.   Europe follows suit.
 Where are the Asians?  Where are the Africans?  And for that
 matter, issues of "access for all",  "universal design"  and
 "user-friendliness" are still hotly debated, but still exist
 only on a lip-service level.    Where are the handicapped on
 the Net?  Where are the elderly?  Where are the women  (that
 are  not  associated  with  the  computer  industy  or  with
 academe)? Where are the poor and unemployed? For the present
 non-users,  it becomes  harder  and harder to  catch up with
 current developments. And  it will definitely not become any
 easier in the near future.  The "socialization" of new users
 has reached new dimensions, because  of their lightning-fast
 massive emergence. Although the experienced users have grown
 in numbers,  too,  the signal-to-noise ratios  hardly change
 because of fluctuations and new influx. All too often do you
 still  find  messages posted  to hundreds  of subscribers in
 email discussion  forums of the  "please-unsubscribe-I-lost-
 the-instructions" nature.     Searching list archives on web
 interfaces  or through email  commands to  a listserver  are
 hardly known,  even to  long-term subscribers  of particular
 email  discussion  forums.    Life cycles of  Internet-based
 discussion forums often take on the form  of a helix, not of
 a cycle.   However, each new turn in the helix is not a mere
 repetition of the previous.  Technological refinements  (and
 sheer mass) magnify  complexity and confusion.   In a recent
 article of the  American Psychologist (vol. 53, issue 9, pp.
 1017-1031),  Kraut et al.  reported on negative  effects  of
 Internet usage.  I will not attempt  to  go deeper into this
 study  which has  already gained  world-wide  attraction and
 which  has    been  discussed   in  numerous  Internet-based
 discussion groups, covered  on websites,  and cited  in  the
 print media.  Just one small observation:  The authors them-
 selves  admitted  that  the  results  may  have  turned  out
 differently  with regard  to the   negative  outcomes  (less
 social interaction,  more loneliness,  more depression) with
 different sampling procedures:   They had presented  data of
 individuals who had used the Internet for the first time and
 -- in the majority --   who had  had  their first  real  ex-
 perience  with  a  conventional  home computer.  Meeting new
 friends online was rare.    This is the very point where the
 expertise of psychologists, psychiatrists, and professionals
 from related disciplines is called for.   Kraut et al. close
 their  article with  the sentence  "[u]ntil  the  technology
 evolves to  be more beneficial,  people should  moderate how
 much  they use the  Internet and monitor the  uses to  which
 they put it".  Sometimes this is possible --  just like  the
 occasional   use  of  tobacco  in  a  non-health-threatening
 degree.  The question is whether this can and should be left
 wholly to the capabilities  of all individuals' self-control
 and reason.  Another question is whether there should not be
 more  information  supplied  and required (!) regarding  the
 peculiarities of and on  the Internet.   Let me say -- half-
 humoroursly   and  half-seriously   --   that  working  with
 computers  always inherently   bears  the danger  to make an
 individual "depressed"   --   even more so when being a new-
 comer  or  if expectations  are raised that the same rights,
 rules and regularities  apply as  in  the  real  world.  The
 Internet  is qualitatively  different  from the conventional
 communication and  information  access means (phone and TV).
 The  analogies  of the Internet potentials as extensions  or
 "virtual  models  of  the  physical world"  seem  now  over-
 stretched - communities in cyberspace are unique worlds with
 unique rules of conduct and unique dynamics.  Of this,  many
 are unaware.   Another  example  is  the  issue  of  "cyber-
 addiction" which started to be taken serious a few years ago
 -- with the appearance of true Internet  addicts in need  of
 professional help.   Social interactions mediated by techno-
 logy  are  not like face-to-face communication,  and  demand
 appropriate  training,  information  and  instructions   for
 effective, efficient, and... safe use. Learning the wise use
 of new information and  communication tools needs to be part
 of the curricula of psych students and, fortunately, in many
 countries  and departments, this is now the case.  Even many
 lay people who  were initially deceived by the seemingly un-
 complicated   nature  of   the   start-of-the-art   Internet
 applications have been able to look beyond the plug-and-play
 facade  of the networked world as presented by the industry,
 finding that  that information is _not_ readily available on
 the Net  and that  interaction  with  virtual  chat partners
 demands just  a high  degree of social skills and competence
 -- sometimes even more than in actual social situations. The
 way the  Internet seems to  be heading and the nature of the
 technology explosion may demand even more expertise from our
 trade  --  particularly  with the  advent of teletherapy and
 telecounseling,  as well as the proliferation of other kinds
 of telemedicine  and telehealth services that are slowly but
 surely snowballing.  Maybe  we  even  need psychiatrists and
 psychologists   with   trainings   and   specializations  in
 new communication technology dynamics?