20 March 2011


Elias Aboujaoude. Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality. W. W. Norton, 2011.

An American psychiatrist rehearses the many dangers of the Internet, from compulsive buying, gambling, watching porn, loosing your privacy, and drifting away from the real world into a much more exciting cyber one. It is probably the section on the false and often inflated personalities that people adopt online that comes closest to the sort of topics covered by Magonia.
It might be that this adoption of e-personality is a relatively mild form of what I have called Caraboo Syndrome (named after Mary Baker/Princess Caraboo [LINK]) in which people either create greatly inflated versions of their own lives or adopt completely fictitious identities.

Aboujaoude links this creation of e-identities to dissociative disorders which is also interesting. Perhaps, however, the best analogy is with the actor playing a dramatic role.

As a retired librarian I can sympathise with his comments on the replacement of books and reading by e-surfing and cutting and pasting, it is sad to see Britain's reference libraries being abandoned and run down because "everything is on the net".

That being said, much of this book's Jeremiads seem to echo many earlier concerns. From its early days psychiatry has been a rather conservative and to some extent puritanical and authoritarian profession, one which has often had the assumption that currently existing society is perfect and that its job is to fit less than perfect human beings into the system. Some of Aboujaoude's concerns about e-anarchy and what will happen without the right kind of gatekeepers echoes nineteenth century concerns among elite opinion formers about 'the Mob' and the terrible things they will get up unless restrained by their betters. And of course, there are more than echoes of the fears generated by the invention of the printing press and the start of mass publishing.

Other fears reflect the conflicts between the behaviour of complex, mixed-up, very diverse, really existing human beings and the demands of the capitalist system, For example Aboujaoude bemoans the blurring of the boundaries between work and leisure, but these boundaries are an invention of the capitalist system, with its factories and industrial discipline, and not the way traditional societies have behaved.

The Internet, he suggests is leading to a rise in so called attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, most of whose symptoms seem more like natural childish behaviours than pathologies. Not considered is that children are not biologically programmed by evolution to sit at desks for hours at a time listening to teachers droning on. A more plausible cause of the rise of diagnosis of this disorder are social changes, such as the closing down of urban wild spaces where children could let off steam, growing parental fears and general lessening of tolerance of children's behaviour by an ageing population. -- Peter Rogerson

1 comment:

Kandinsky said...

ADHD and similar spectrum disorders have been studied at the organic level and there's a growing body of indicative evidence that nature has the upper hand on nurture...in this case. That doesn't rule out, or forgive, bad parenting and society, but it tends to let the internet of the hook. Perhaps Aboujaoude knows babies and toddlers who spend hours on the internet?!

Typically, the 'ADHD' child who finds school problematic will have displayed similar behaviours before the age of 5. Where parents/carers conceded/complied or adapted to their child's behaviours, the school environment needs to be more rigid. Herein lies much of the conflict...immovable objects etc.

Here in the UK a little known driver that's boosting the rate of ADHD diagnosis is greed and complacency. If a parent/carer is familiar with(contemptuous of?) the social services and benefit system, they can massage their income and benefits. A child diagnosed with ADHD will entitle the parent/carer to more child support as the child is considered disabled.

It's rather elegant as a concept. Parents can blame all the problems on 'ADHD' whilst using the extra money to drown their sorrows in drink and while away the hours on the X-Box. Critics/deniers of ADHD can use these kids as examples and pharmaceutical companies can keep bringing out more 'cures.'