Wednesday, July 15, 2009

This Is Your Brain Online

Do you suffer from a fear of social contact? Do you have difficulty concentrating or sleeping? Do you spend around six hours online… and, when offline, do you occasionally miss the time you spend surfing these glorious tubes?

Final question: Despite these other pressing health concerns, are you on the Internet RIGHT NOW?

Hmm. I’m no doctor, so I’ve referred your case to my friend Dr. Yang Yongxin. He thinks you should be shocked repeatedly.

In the brain.

I can hear your collective sighs of relief now. At least he’s not going to be strapping electrodes to your nether bits, right? And your nipples are safe too. So it’s nothing weird, just a quick little zap to the cranium, thus eliciting a seizure. We’ll keep it up until you no longer want to go on the internet… or, I guess, if the internet goes away.

In a case of what I might refer to as “news of the weird,” if I thought unwilling ECT was more weird than, say, horrible and ethically unsound, a doctor in the Shandong Province of China has been experimenting with exactly this, sometimes conducting his experiments on unwilling participants. I can’t say I fully blame him, either. After all, there’s been a long history of using it to correct delusional kids who have trouble separating fantasy from reality.

China has stepped in and outlawed the procedure, recognizing that Yongxin has crossed the fine line between regular old-fashioned quackery and cartoonish super villainy. Apparently this guy was also administering shocks to patients who broke any of his house rules, including eating chocolate, locking the bathroom door, or sitting in his chair.

To be fair, it does look super comfy.

I don’t mean to suggest that there is no room for outlining pathology when it comes to new technologies, or that work towards understanding these conditions is in any way unwelcome. Consider the work being done to understand the Japanese phenomenon of Hikkikomori, a shut-in community made possible through extensive technological connections. But there is a danger to thinking that we have easy answers to these questions… or that drastic solutions are the only ones available to us.

Yes, Yongxin is a kook, but he isn’t alone. A quick glance at sites like Warcraft Addiction and WoW Detox show that commonly the issue of ‘playing too much video games’ is framed not just as a compulsive problem, but as a mental disorder rivaling alcoholism or drug addiction. Agree or disagree with such thinking, it’s interesting to see the extent of their diagnoses: Warcraft Addiction opens with the disclaimer that they are “not professional therapists,” and then go on to provide opinions based off of ‘years of study of the addiction.’ WoW Detox provides a link for a ‘situation in which there is no hope.’ It leads to a suicide hotline.

This is how it works, people.

If nothing else, the case of Linyi City’s psychiatric hospital’s unwilling electroshock is a reminder that snake-oil salesmen are an endlessly inventive bunch. When all you are doing is pulling treatments out of thin air, anything and everything can be cured. But the specific lesson here is that to overreact to a misunderstood problem may lead to a cure more harmful than problem itself.

- Rook


  1. found you through, btw


  2. Hey, welcome to the blog. Any reader from the Escapist is more than welcome here. You're good folks.