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Borderline-Bipolar Subjects:  Computers (and Internet) post special danger

"Life is a big hospital where every patient is anxious to change bed"  C. Baudelaire 

In the Seventies, a well-known Canadian sociologist, Marshall Mc Luhan, the one who invented the term "global village", divided the media in "warm" and "cold" media. Television is a classical example of the latter: the images on the screen are made by beams of electrons which run incessantly forming horizontal lines, one after the other, from the superior border to the lower of the TV screen. In the European system, these lines are 625 for second, in the American TV standard the lines per second are a little bit less: this means that the REAL IMAGE we perceive actually is an image formed in our brain.

We could say that TV screens (inadvertedly) call our brains Ö and our brains (inadvertedly) answer. This is why, when a TV set is on during a dinner, part of our attention is always deviated toward the TV, whatever the TV screen is showing at that particular moment.

Itís possible too that the cerebral system which answers to this "mermaid" power is a "connection system" that we have and that is activated by a partial stimulus, an unfocused stimulus in search of completion - who knows? The undeniable facts are the family scene of everybody almost silent, watching TV while eating, children staying hours in front of TV screens and itís a common finding that psychotic patients often hear "voices" coming from TV as their first hallucinatory symptom, while some epileptic patients have attacks watching TV or playing videogames.

Thus, TV sets interact with our brain in a way not completely understood, so far.

But computer monitors are TV sets!

And we stay in front of them at distances even shorter than we usually use for TV: the mermaidsí call is thus even higher.

The second thing to consider is the alteration of the space-time. We are used to reason in terms conceivable for our experience: the shortest span of time we actually can imagine is in terms of seconds, the shortest span of space is in terms of millimeters.

Instead, computers work in terms of nanoseconds and, with Internet, distance is so shortened that we at the beginning live as we were on a flying carpet: we can go instantly in Latin America, in Europe, on Mars but we are not in Latin America, in Europe, on Mars: our eyes are seeing the images, while our brains, confused by nanoseconds and fascinated by the electronic mermaids, with extreme difficulty, try to conciliate what our eyes see with that the rest of our body feels: that we are seated on a chair, typing on a keyboard.

In the realm of the unconscious, as psychoanalysts say, space and time are abolished: the same occurs while we use the computers surfing Internet the brain is confused, the stimuli from the senses carry opposite sensations, it experiences different lives at the same time, lives separated by nanoseconds: too much for the brain, which is used to this during sleep, during dreams, during mind wanderings, but is uncapable to deal with this in the "real life": the result is a dissociative state, that is a partial loss of a united state of conscience, with "vertical" fractures among the different "lives".

As time goes by, what started being a flying carpet becomes a nightmare where Mickey Mouse (we), apprentice wizard, does no longer control the brooms he created

Internet works 24 hours a day: it never sleeps - neither do we.

As a consequence, our usual sleep/waking cycle is altered: coffees, cigarettes, alcoholic drinks raise, and raise also the lengths and times of oniroid states, that psychiatrists call depersonalization/derealization symptoms: sensations to be unreal - or that the world is unreal. We are groggy, and like the drunks feel happy and smart, we feel the same.

In this groggy state, we discover things, we receive "fantastic" offers whose price, strange enough, have always a "9" as final number. The compulsive spending, the inability sometimes to postpone shopping, the impulsivity in acting is accelerated: the danger to overcome financial limits (or limits tout-court) is closer than ever.

In this way, already "complicated and colourful lives" ( Dr Akiskalís words) become more and more complicated and colourful: too much?

If the world loses its usual space-time hierarchy, "borderlines-bipolars" try, as usual, to find the "right" answers to the chaos: their intelligence is instantly pushed to solve the aeternal dilemmas: love versus not-love, right versus wrong, happiness versus unhappiness, rational versus irrational. The usual flood of ideas explodes, the river becomes falls and the minimal continuity of daily contacts breaks down: the perception of the fractalic beauty ( that is their ability to instantly see the various plans of reality, all the possible problems and best possible solutions) sharply contrasts with the paucity of the real contacts.

The overflow of inputs and emotions poses a great burden on subjects who already have "pananxiety, panphobia, panambivalence, sometimes chaotic sexuality" and a long history of misunderstandings: facing completely new weapons for old questions (Who we are? Where we are going?), memory impairs and the usual forgetfulness becomes worse. The number of informations raise, ruminations of thoughts and procrastination of decisions too, with a possible reduction of the ability of negotiate with others - which is a reflection of the ability we have to negotiate with our internalized figures and models, that is with both our light and dark, ambivalent parts (with associated messages and "metamessages"  according to Batesonís and Palo Alto School systemic theory of the mind).

"Borderline-bipolar" subjects have an above the average intelligence, but they have also a partial selflessness, they need incessant reassurations from the others, with ambivalent feelings about these dependencies. Raising the number of contacts through internet, also the number of dependencies raises. The needs of reassuration multiply too, with self-images that in the past lasted days, and now last hours, even minutes according themselves to the number and timing of e-mails and instant messages, coming from all the corners of the world, at any time, which can start other compulsions.

"Natura horruit a vacuo" ( Nature is frightened by emptiness ) was a latin sentence, and we can say the opposite for these subjects: their chronic emptiness craves for spaces, for never-ending new challenges till the extreme edges: which better spaces than new technologies, never before explored lands of distant but instantaneous relationships where maybe is possible finally to find the long-searched mirror, the person (or persons) capable of filling the holes of a personality, occasions for the long-searched meaning of a life of incessant spinnings, ups and downs, illusions and delusions?

As for now (february 2000), some researches are just coming up revealing the "psychiatric" and sociological dangers of Internet: an Italian team showed that 10% of users have dissociative symptoms, and so far about 20 people were admitted to psychiatric wards in Italy because of problems related to "excessive" computer usage. In USA, Norman Nie, professor of Political Sciences at Stanford University, released a survey showing that over half the users curtailed newspaper reading and reduced real interactions outside and inside the family, with actual increased isolation.

Internet may not simply be a "new tool": maybe it represents an apocalyptical change for our society we need time (true time, not nanoseconds) to discover how to cope with it.

Contributed by the author: Antonio Crudele, M.D.
acru@ba.dada.it



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