Dr. David Van Nuys: Welcome to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by CenterSite, LLC, covering topics of mental health, wellness and psychotherapy. My name is Dr. David Van Nuys. I am a clinical psychologist and your host. On today's show, we'll be talking with Joanie Gillispie, PhD who is co-author of the 2007 book 'Cyber Rules' - what you really need to know about the Internet.
This book seems particularly relevant for our series and as much as it is described as the essential guide for clinicians, educators and parents. Dr. Gillispie received the Doctorate in clinical psychology from the Fielding Graduate University with an emphasis in health psychology. She works from systems and individual theories utilizing psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral perspectives. She holds a professional post doctoral training certificate from the University of California, Berkley in neuropsychological assessment screening and a one year advanced training in strategic depth psychotherapy.
Her expertise is in the area of Internet media, understanding the psychological and social effects of cyber space and cyber culture. Her research, writing and presentations about the Internet include media literacy, cyber sexuality and professional issues online for mental health consumers, practitioners and organizations.
She's also taught at U.C. Berkley, Dominican College and University of Phoenix. Now here's the interview.
David: Dr. Joanie Gillispie, welcome to the Wise Counsel podcast.
Joanie Gillispie, PhD: Thank you.
David: Oh I am really glad to have you here. I have been very much enjoying your book that you co-authored with Jayne Gackenbach 'Cyber Rules - what you really need to know about the Internet, the essential guide for clinicians, educators and parents' and so I am really looking forward to exploring that book with you for our listeners.
Let me start off though by asking what experiences in your own life and background led you to write this book?
Joanie: Well, I have been working with youth and families since I was 21, so that's over 35 years ago and I have been deeply concerned at the disconnect of adults with children, that's been educated in the schools, There were too many children who want getting the education they needed and in addition, over the years, they tend to be coming to school with more and more problems that prevented them from learning and I accept responsibility for all the kids, all kids.
We need to raise them better because they're going to inherit a world that's going to take a lot of analytical ability and it's going to require a lot of deep and meaningful human connections. So I wrote the book out of frustration that we did not appear to be helping children enough so they could take over when we pass on and then I discovered the Internet as an opportunity to make more meaningful connections with our young people.
David: OK, and how did you happen to team up with your co-author Jayne Gackenbach who is a professor up in Canada?
Joanie: Well, Jayne's expertise is in the area of dreaming and I wrote my book with her but I wrote it by myself, one night in a dream. And I knew that we could use the Internet to change some of the things that we need to change on ground, but it wasn't going to happen unless we really understood how Internet media has shaped, our communications and also our relationships with each other. And she wrote a great book called 'The psychology of the Internet', just came out at its second edition, I wrote a chapter for her second edition book and I was interviewing her on the phone and she said, "Well, you don't know very much about this subject, do you", and I said, "No, but I am learning a lot", and I said, "You wrote one of the best books", and she said, "Well, why are you writing a book?", and I said, "Well, because I wrote this book in my dreams", and that worked for her. She liked that.
David: Interesting, yeah I like that too, that's very interesting.
Joanie: I actually wrote the whole table of contents and everything. It took three years to get it out on paper but I did write it in a dream.
David: Well boy, maybe I'll explore that some more with you offline since I am very interested in dreams but I want to...
Joanie: Our unconscious mind is very powerful and the Internet is really the global collective unconscious. It is very similar to the dream state actually, neurologically in our brain when we're on the computer and also how it operates with a lot of neural connections.
David: Well that's a fascinating idea. Let me say at the outset that I think this book that you co-authored is a very thoughtful and balanced resource for parents, educators and clinicians, just as you intended and that you and Jayne do an excellent job of integrating recent research with illustrative vignettes and you managed to avoid dogmatic advice.
Joanie: Well, thank you, that was our aim.
David: Well done, yeah and I must admit, I am a denizen of cyber space myself, maybe verging on addiction. So there was an article in the paper just this morning. I don't know if you saw it but the American Medical Association is considering this very day declaring Internet addiction or maybe it was... I am trying to remember it was either video game addiction or Internet, I think it was video game addiction as an official diagnostic category. So maybe that's a place for us to jump in. Let's talk about addiction and whether or not the Internet is addictive or video game is addictive etc.
Joanie: Well that's a great place to start because Kimberly Young first coined the term in 1997 "Internet addiction" and it's very catchy. But if you use our offline criteria for examining whether it's an addiction. Our behavior is actually a compulsion not an addiction. An addiction requires a substance. So I think a more accurate explanation could be compulsive Internet use in the area where it becomes problematic in the person's life or in their occupational life or social life.
So I'd like to sort of refrain the word 'addiction' because models of addiction treatment which is abstinent space, 12 steps or a harm reduction, don't really work very well with the Internet. And that's because our Internet is now embedded in so many different modalities that you can play video games on your cell phone, you can download porn on your iPod, so all of our media, digital media is now interacting with each other and coming into our lives in light speed, wiki speed, wiki is a Hawaiian word for speed and very embedded into our everyday lives. So it's very hard to tease out Internet addiction or gaming addiction because it involves multi multi use of various digital media.
David: Yes, well that's an interesting distinction to use the word 'compulsion' rather than 'addiction', that's intriguing and I am going to need to think about that. It does makes sense on the face of it. They do give some examples in this newspaper article and I think you do in your book as well, of instances where either the Internet or video games can be indeed very disruptive and even young people can experience something that seems very much like withdrawal if they're suddenly removed and then they, that's all they think about, that's all they want to do.
In the newspaper article they cite that a certain percentage like it was three or four percent of young men who go to college and they're discovered that they have now ready access with high speed Internet connectivity and they never go to class, they just stay and play these online interactive multiplayer games all the time without going to class.
Joanie: Well that's right, there's a game called 'Second Life' and I read one great article that said people who play 'Second Life' should get a life, it's that they don't have a first life.
David: Yeah, 'Second Life', yeah, it's not even a game really but it's a virtual reality space where you can have an avatar that represents yourself, a kind of a visual cartoon version of yourself and you interact with virtual cartoon versions of other people and it's mirroring this reality so closely, people are actually making fortunes. One woman has made hundreds of thousands of dollars selling virtual real estate. Other people are selling virtual clothes and...
David: Other people are selling virtual clothes. And I-
Joanie: I'm in the wrong business. [laughing]
David: Yeah, Really.
David: There is at least one therapist that I have encountered there, who has hung up his shingle in 'Second Life'.
David: But you give a-
Joanie: Wow. That gets into all sorts of interesting issues. Let me remind you that the AMA is not the only organization on the planet that looks at Internet addiction. China for example, does have treatment centers, residential treatment centers, for people who have Internet addiction.
And they do call it Internet addiction. I am not sure if that is an accurate translation from Cantonese or Mandarin. But they perceive that there is a very serious problem with their young men, that are preferring to have lives that are virtual, than real.
We always live a lot in our fantasy lives. And when that becomes more important than our day to day, face to face life, then we do have a problem. And in my book I have a method to have people assess whether they have a problem or not.
I believe it is very important that as a psychologist, that we use assessment, criteria and measures, to see whether someone's behavior meets a certain criteria for a diagnosable disorder. I think you can do the same thing with Internet behaviors, gaming, and viewing porn, or just emailing, or blogging, or surfing. And I think the criteria uploads very well. Our offline criteria uploads very well to online behaviors.
David: Well how would a person go on about assessing, either for themselves, or for their child, whether or not that online behavior has gone too far? Whether it is excessive, and compulsive?
Joanie: Well that is a great question. On page 76, in my book for example, and all the way throughout my book, I use the adapted criteria for assessing compulsive behaviors, from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
And basically, there is yes, no questions. Do you stay online longer than you intend to? Do you argue with others about your behavior online? Is your identity online very different from whom you are offline? Do you do things online, that you wouldn't do offline? Do you hide anything you do online?
So there is ten questions. And the more yes answers, indicate the more probability of you having a compulsive online use. So it's a very easy rubric to evaluate whether you have a problem or not.
Joanie: Some of us have some levels of problems with lots of things that are below levels of clinical significance. Mine happens to be chocolate chip cookies. So I have to be careful about how many are around me.
Joanie: But other people have to know that your online behavior can very easily move into the level of problem. And I know that many therapists deal with issues where a partner, or a spouse, or a parent, brings in a child, or a significant other, who has a significant problem online, whether it's online gaming, gambling, shopping on eBay, video games, or just IMing all the time.
I don't know if you know who Judith Kuriansky is, she is a fabulous media psychologist. I emailed her, we were both in Australia at a conference, and when she came back she said she had a thousand emails in her mailbox.
And I wonder what that is going to do to all of us who have to live within a 24 hour day. All of the things that weren't there before, are now magnified online. And I think you have to be very careful that we don't become glut. You know, a glut society that is just consuming too much stuff, including having to answer a thousand emails.
David: Boy, there is so many things I can jump off on there that I relate to. One place I want to go is, you mentioned IMing. In your book you mentioned, my wife who works with young kids as an educator has noticed this too, that they can be holding a conversation with you, looking you right in the eyes [laughing] and maintaining their end of the conversation.
And in their other hand they have got their cell phone, and they are IMing. They are texting. And they're keyboarding with their thumb, and they are doing both things at once. Which is amazing.
David: I have tried texting, and it's very slow for me. [laughing] I'm plodding. It's like the hunt and peck method in miniature.
Joanie: Well, you are right. One of the things the Kaiser Foundation found, that you can not just measure one media use, because now the use is multitasking media. Simultaneously multitasking media.
And kids are very good at texting on their cell phones for example, and mentally computing where the N is or where the P is, and knowing how to write in that modality very quickly. And I know that this kind of keyboarding, and also keyboarding with both hands, is changing the way we process information in our brains.
And for you and I, we are probably a little to old. Our brains are not so plastic anymore. But for young people, the average age of first Internet use is nine months old. For young people the plasticity of their brain is actually changing, as they interact with media. It is just a fascinating area.
David: Yes, that was a point that I had never thought about, that I really picked up on in the book, is that people of our generation, we learned to write with one hand, with our right hand, with pen and paper, or pencil and paper. And therefore we were giving our left hemisphere a lot of stimulation, and it was contributing to the development of the left hemisphere.
But you point out that young people today are coming up with keyboarding very early on, using both hands, and therefore stimulating both sides of the brain. I found that intriguing.
Joanie: Well, I found it so intriguing that I was really questioning if anyone else is noticing. So I actually went and had a lot of interviews with neurologists and neuro psychologists and Leonard Shlain, who is quoted in my book, as a laparoscopic neurosurgeon.
So he goes into peoples brains. And I ran this by him, and he absolutely agreed that this has to start to rewire the neural networks, from hemisphere dominance, to a much more interrelated way, where the left and right hemisphere work together in concert, rapidly with visual stimulation.
Now the left and right hemisphere has always worked together, but when you keyboard now with both hands it's a much more comprehensive interaction effect. And the interesting thing about the QWERTY keyboard for 85 percent of us that are right handed is that your left hand actually types far more words.
Joanie: So we are pushing the word processing, the literal interpretation, and verbal processing, into our non dominate side, which is our right side of the brain, which is more holistic, and looks at things from a distal point of view, as well as an emotional processing of information, and visual.
So it is going to be a very rich environment. Our IQ's scores with kids are going up. I don't know whether that means they are going to be "smarter", Quotes around that word. But it looks like the IQ scores are going up in both information processing speed, which makes sense, and also verbal information processing. Kids are doing much, much more at the same time, than they used too.
David: yes. And you do point out that, that seems to be effecting certain aspects of IQ in a very positive way.
Joanie: I hope so. I am not sure that the social intelligence is going to be able to keep up with that. Because when people live a lot online it reduces the time they do things offline. I don't care if it is doing your chores or playing soccer.
But we are raising kids to believe the norms that are social norms online. And unfortunately, the norms online are co-created by what I call critical math. They are not norms that work in face to face reality.
They are norms that are created online. And they are rapidly changing those kind of norms. So I am really concerned about kids learning how to be a sensitive and social creature on the planet, because online it's a different thing.
David: Boy, it sure is.
Joanie: You can confuse it. Yes, you can use your virtual world to enhance your offline one, but I think you have to be very careful. Especially in the area of intimacy, that you don't learn the rules that you have online first, and then try to apply those offline, because that is not going to work.
David: Yes. You gave some rather shocking examples in the book, of really young people, young girls, say, who are nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, somewhere in that range, who online will flaunt outrageously sexual personas, that they would never do in the offline world. Can you discuss that a bit?
Joanie: They would never do so publicly. But I think, kids are not doing anything adults are not doing, and adults are modeling it. The young people are exploring, and they are curious about sexuality, and they want power. The Internet is a place for them to do that, and connect with others.
What's shocking is, that now many adults who do not spend a lot of time in schools, for example, or on playgrounds, are just shocked at what they see. But it's better that they see what they see, rather than put there heads in the sand and say "Don't ask. Don't tell. I don't want to know."
And it gives us an opportunity to talk about sexism, or talk about anger, or talk about appropriate discourse with people, how to have clean communication that's not flaming or angry. This is an opportunity. And I do not want us an adult society, to let this opportunity go by and not face it head on.
David: I had a guest last week, who had written a book on how to keep your kids from become addicts, basically. He went pretty far, I thought, in terms of, at least in some cases, suggesting that you get a tracking device and put it on your teenagers car and that you monitor their computers, maybe in surreptitious ways. So that you can see where they are going and what they are doing.
What is your take on the limits of how intrusive a parent should, or should not be in terms of monitoring their kids? And I suppose it depends upon the age too.
Joanie: Well, I raised ten kids and lived to tell the tale.
David: [laughing] Good for you.
Joanie: One of the things that we need to do more is really listen to kids. That would be a great question to ask a teenager. But here is what we know, if we use a militaristic, authoritarian, discipline style, we've already done many years of research with that, it does not work with teenagers. It has the opposite effect. And I am not saying you can't be authoritative.
Authoritative is knowing what you are talking about. The problem with the Internet is that many parents don't know enough. As well as, where is your child on Friday nights? Many parents don't really know, or they are too busy, or exhausted, or having there own life, to really pay attention to where their kids are.
And I have developed a model that I consider as simple a model as possible. Because parents, sometimes they can be a little clueless, and they work hard, and they are tired. You know they don't monitor kids TV watching. So here is a simple model for parents.
Use the model of teaching your kids to cross the street, and apply it to the Internet. We know, that parents know how to teach their kids to cross the street. What do you when they are nine month old? You carry them or push them in a stroller. When they are two and a half or three, you might say to them "would you like to be pushed in the stroller? Or do you want to hold Mommy, or Daddies, hand?"
By the time they are four or five, you have a hold of their hand. But there may be occasions where you let them cross the street, but you're watching and supervising constantly. Now at eight or nine or ten, you may say to them "You can cross the street to your friend Susie's, house. But you have to be home by four o'clock." And you call Susie's parents, and you say "My child is on the way over."
By twelve, thirteen, and fourteen your child is going to want to go to the mall alone to watch movies, or go to friends houses for the night. So that is where you have constant supervision but you give kids choice. At fifteen or sixteen, your supervision allows them freedom. Because if you don't, they won't learn how to handle the freedom that they have when they are out of your eyesight.
You are not eyeballing your kids twenty four hours a day at fifteen or sixteen. And if your child is, if you can't trust your child at sixteen, then you don't need a monitor for their car. Because they shouldn't be driving.
David: OK, that is a reasonable model I think. I can-
Joanie: I think so too.
David: Yes, I can relate to that model.
Joanie: I think, you know, who else thinks it is reasonable are young people. Because our jobs are not to boss our kids around. We know that has never worked. It is to keep them safe.
Joanie: We need to keep our kids safe.
Joanie: And if we try to lock them up, or spy on them, in order to keep them safe, we are not teaching them how to take responsibility. And it is a tough world out there. There is a lot more stressors that young people face now, than we faced a generation ago. And we are not giving them the tools they need.
And if you lock up the computer, and don't teach them how to use it in your own home, and you forbid a sixteen year old to look at porn, for example, then they'll go elsewhere. They will go elsewhere to look at porn. And you must explain to them what is sex positive and what is sex negative. Which unfortunately, we have never done. With what Time Magazine calls "Your Daddies porn." They call the Internet "It's not your Daddies porn anymore."
Joanie: Well "Daddy" porn had a lot wrong with it, as far as the exploitation of people engaged in sex acts that were not erotic. They were exploitative. So we really need to do a better job with our young people in teaching them how to handle their lives online and offline.
David: [acknowledges] You give a lot of fairly amazing statistics. Again, for our listeners, I really want to urge them to go out and buy this book. I don't always say that. But I think this really is a book that is worth buying. Because it is so richly documented in terms of research. And yet, it is also conversational, and lots of down to earth vignettes, and lots of good advice.
But at the same time you avoid easy answers, and you examine such issues as intimacy, and identity, and aggression and sexuality. And you wrestle with whether this brave new world is good for us, or bad for us, or just different. In ways that I think are very balanced.
And what I started to say is, you give a lot of statistics. And I do not know if you have them readily at the top of your mind, but just how connected kids are. For example, you mentioned that the average age that kids first start to, what? Engage with a computer? Or was it the Internet, was nine months, wasn't it?
Joanie: It's Digital Media.
David: Digital Media.
Joanie: It's on the Internet. It's also on video games. And TV.
David: At nine months.
Joanie: Yes. That's The Pew Internet & American Life website is a fabulous website and that is where that demographic comes from.
David: And then at what age, what is the age that kids start getting cell phones?
Joanie: Well, Middle School. You know parents work. And cell phones are a great way for kids and parents to keep track of each other. However, kids are using their cell phones, now that you can download porn and text message, and do lots of things on your cell phone, access the Internet as well. Kids are using the Internet to grab some of the power that they don't feel they have in their lives. And also, to make connections with people.
They don't have enough good connections with the adults in their lives. Parents are working. They are single parents that are struggling. They are disenfranchised from their own lives, their own meaningful lives. And they don't have often, enough time, to really connect with their kids enough.
And kids know that. And so they are connecting with each other. Ron Taffel wrote a great book "Breaking through to Teens." And that is his premise as a psychotherapist and psychologist in Manhattan for twenty five years. Kids are disconnected from communities and from adults.
Joanie: And certainly, our health statistics, and our educational statistics, they bear that out of too many kids flunk school, too many kids are getting sexually transmitted diseases, they are experiencing depression. It's a tough world out there for our young people. And they are our most precious resource. I figure well, we can send people to the moon, why can't we help kids? And help their healthy development? Because they are our future.
David: Yes. One of the other things that fascinated me too, was that some people are more vulnerable to problems with, to online problems if you will, than others. I am thinking of research that you sighted, that showed that introverts versus extroverts. Introverts were more likely to get depressed from spending lots of time in video games and being online. For extroverts it was quite the reverse. It was energizing for them, if I recall correctly.
Joanie: Well, that is right. And I wrote this book, virtually, between two different countries. One of the things I think is interesting, the more we know ourselves, the more we can be authentic in the world. Introverted people could benefit from using the Internet in a way that helps them practice social skills.
The other thing that introverted people often experience is a lot of social anxiety. And that keeps them from pushing themselves out into the world. And we know that psychologists have failed people who have Social Anxiety Disorder, because we want to give them very supportive, touchy feely therapy, and make them feel good. When in reality, we need to do some systematic desensitization of their fears, and push them out into the world, and make them confront their fears.
If you don't confront your fears they get bigger, and they become more generalized. So that is the combination of an introverted person who has a sub clinical level of Social Anxiety Disorder. Or an undiagnosed Social Anxiety Disorder.
Those are the kinds of people that would live in a virtual world, because the real world is too threatening. And that's very, very sad, because we know that cognitive behavioral treatment, with anxiety disorders is very, very effective.
David. Yes. So, let's touch on another area that you deal with, which is online dating, and the whole, all of our sexual morays. Let's say for adults, you know, because people want to get hooked up, and it's not always easy to do.
I know a number of people, including professors, who actually have met their mates online in these online dating services. What do you have to say about that whole set of issues?
Joanie: Well, the concept of dating services, and matchmakers, and arranged marriage has been in our cultures for many, many years. Not virtually of course. But my sister in law met her husband online. I know many people who date regularly online, in very satisfying ways.
However, our sexuality and intimate relationships have really come to a place where we need to examine "what are we doing?" "what is the model we set for children about relationships?" and one of the things I love about research is, I love statistics, but I also know that statistics don't tell the whole story.
Sometimes you need to ask human beings. If you want to know about a transgender emotional state, you ask a person who is transgender, Pre or Post Op. If you want to know about sexuality online, you need to talk to people who are exploring their sexuality online, to find out what their experiences are.
But overall, we know that young people are beginning early sexual exploration online. Earlier than they did offline, because it's so accessible. Not only that, it is anonymous, and it is private.
I was recently in Australia and I met some health educators from Tasmania. Which they call the bum of the world. What the young people in Tasmania are doing, would make most adults fall off their chairs. And it is absolutely rocking the public health department in Tasmania.
Young kids are doing lots of virtual sex, group masturbation online, blogging, emailing, sending photographs around. Engaging in lots of sexual experiences, to orgasm, online. With each other. With their classmates.
Joanie: And researchers have shown in places around the world, that this is going to begin to shape peoples sexuality. We know that early experiences shape the trajectory of our sexual development. So if your early experiences are group sexual experiences, you will be more likely to have your arousal patterns habituated to group sexual experiences.
It's difficult enough to get two people to have a mutual exclusive, satisfying sexual relationship, in or out of, marriage. It becomes more complex if you include other people in that as adults. And I think we are headed for some very interesting changes, culturally, ahead of us.
David: My goodness. I, [laughing] yes indeed. [laughing] and to hear that this is going on in Tasmania, I mean that's, you know, you think Tasmania would be this remote, untouched, region of the world.
Joanie: Well, that is exactly right.
David: So I guess there is no, remote untouched region of the world, now that we are living in this cyber reality.
Joanie: Well they, the Down Under, funds a lot of fabulous research, because they know they are at the end of the world, and if they want to stay current with what is happening, they need to be wired. And they are very wired.
Tasmania is very rural. But we have always know that rural communities, young people in rural communities, engage in sexual activity earlier than their urban counterparts.
Joanie: On an average. And that is because they have the time and a place, [David laughs] and everybody is reproducing. Even the animals. So it's part, an accepted part of life.
Joanie: The interesting thing is that the Internet sexualities are, have no limits online. So all of the things we have never talked about with kids, about what are degrading sexual acts, what are unhealthy, what are disrespectful pornography to look at, we have never talked about that with them enough. So when they find this stuff online, and I call it "donkey porn" the reason I call it donkey porn is because it's my euphemism for unspeakable acts that you find online.
Joanie: With infants, children, objects, animals, whatever the combination is, you can find it online. And you do not need a credit card. You don't need to be eighteen.
Joanie: You just look under the site.
Joanie: So, kids are socializing themselves because, hey, they are curious. And you know, eleven, and twelve, and thirteen year olds, kind of like gross things. You know, they like gross big pussy toenails, and they think that is funny, and they have this weird sense of humor. Bathroom humor.
And so, when they change that into their sexual exploration, they get into areas that they are not prepared to see. And the areas that they see are adult oriented, often very deviant, interactions. And they can produce, and alter their sexual arousal.
So they develop a paraphilia, which is a sexual impulse control disorder, or a fetish. And some fetishes are not unhealthy, or bad if it is with a consenting person, but some fetishes are illegal and very dehumanizing. So we are in for trouble here, unless we really want to address this.
At the international conference, sexuality conference, I was in, in Australia, and there were one hundred and fifty countries there, all of them are confronting this issue of deviant sexuality online, and what that is going to do to our sexual development.
David: Hmm. This whole digital world, really seems to be a two edge sword, with a tremendous, positive upside, and equally tremendous unprecedented downside.
David: It's really got both.
Joanie: I think that angst made me dream my book.
Joanie: Because it is a lot of angst to carry around. I have no assurances in watching how we treat kids, on ground, that we are going to get this peace about our online lives. As a matter of fact, I saw it snowballing in the direction of hype and horror, if we do not start to face what is happening.
And one of the most disheartening things that I found, but the most fascinating, is that adult sexuality researchers, like in china for example, Japan, and the Netherlands, are looking at adults developing paraphilia, by virtue of exploring deviant sex sites.
Now we only used to think that paraphlias develop in childhood, or adolescents, when you begin your psychosexual development. Pretty much the literature really believed that you developed altered or unusual sexual habit in childhood or adolescence, based on your exposure to certain scenarios.
But they are seeing adults develop paraphlias who have never had one before. And that is really a concern. That's really a concern. So I am not sure what we are going to do about that. Unless we talk more about what is sex positive and sex negative. So we can teach kids how to avoid sex negative interactions.
David: Yes. Now, another area that you touch on, that is very important, is that we can go on to the Internet to get information about health related issues. And I certainly know that I have done that. And it can, again be very positive. It can serve a very positive function. Or it can be very negative.
I had a very positive experience, where I was seeing some flashes in my visual field, and you know, probably wasn't extreme enough that I would have gone to a doctor about it. But the computer is so readily available, I thought "well let me go online and see what I can find out."
And when I went online, you know, it said "you are in danger of a retinal detachment. You should go see a retinal specialist right away." Which I did, and I had laser surgery that day.
Joanie: Wow. Great story Dave.
David: Yes. And-
Joanie: I love that story.
David: And I would have just ignored it. I would have just shined it on, you know, if that information would not have readily been there. And at the same time, there are all sorts of nostrums, and snake oil products [laughing] related to health right?
David: So what is your take on the pros and cons of going to the Internet for health information? And what kind of advice do you give people about that?
Joanie: Well I think probably, this is the crux here. Going to the Internet for information, about health or anything, the Internet, I don't know if you have read the book Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat."
David: It is on my to do list.
Joanie: Absolutely incredible. Well, he said, "the Internet is what happened to us, while we were sleeping." The magnificence of Internet communication happened so suddenly that we just didn't get it, until we woke up and looked at it. Online, the Internet changes knowledge.
Epistemology, which means 'what is knowledge', used to be the purview of the elite or the educated. It started off with the monks in religious orders and then disseminated to people who could read and who were educated. It was tightly controlled and very hierarchical. For example, the American Psychological Association (APA) has a 70% rejection rate for journals that don't meet their criteria for what is expert writing.
However online, and I'm calling it a 'Wikipedia world', knowledge is a collaboration. Wikipedia is an absolutely fabulous thing to study. Last July, there was a great article in Atlantic Magazine about the origins of Wikipedia. It is a shared site where anybody can be the editor, and the expert is you.
When I started to teach, I didn't let my students cite anything on Wikipedia. I thought it was garbage. I would wonder about their sources and where they were getting this information. But this last year, I changed my mind and I made them document where the source was, if they did a citation. I teach nurses in behavioral health. I made them document their sources and then critique the source.
We can find out anything we want to know online. A lot of it is garbage, but a lot of it allows you to save your sight and help you see better, literally.
Joanie: We need to teach people to be more analytical and not believe everything they read or hear. And we need to do that much more both online and offline.
But knowledge is now a collaboration. It's co-constructed through portals like MySpace, YouTube, and Wikipedia. I think it's going to be very interesting to see how the political race shapes up in this country due to political blogs, for example. It will change culture.
Right now, I'm developing a research protocol for New Zealand to have Internet health kiosks embedded into public Internet venues. A person can click on a 'health' icon and scroll through state of the art, empirically validated information on substance abuse, relationship issues, sleep, height, weight and nutrition, for example.
So we need to help people learn how to surf and evaluate information more accurately, and you can do that online.
David: Yes. There's something I meant to ask you earlier, and I'm just now remembering it. What do you think all of this is doing to our attention span? When I first got into computers, I think I was a more patient person than I am now.
Joanie: Well its nothing to turn us all into children throwing a tantrum when the computer crashes and we lose something we've been working on for six hours.
Joanie: It's really a cartoon to see us stomping our feet and swearing at the computer screen. I think it's a double-edged sword. In some ways, it's expanding our ability to multi-task and find lots of things simultaneously. And we know that our brain waves measured when you're playing a video game, is in a state of 'flow', or as Jayne Gackenbach would say, 'lucid dreaming'. We're highly focused and energized.
I know a lot of computer scientists and researchers, and when they go into doing what they do online, they are totally absorbed. So you can have deep focus and you can have a breadth of focus.
My concern is that we better be careful how it affects our time when we're not on the computer. You can have too much stimulation. For example, the blinking of the computer screen activates your brain and impairs your restful sleep.
Joanie: So does television. I used to tell my patients that had problems sleeping never get up to turn the light on. Sleep hygiene is a really good protocol. None of us get enough good sleep, especially teenagers.
The screen itself is a very activating experience for our brains. So maybe we should all learn to turn it off by six PM. And that means we need to talk to teachers and have them stop assigning students so much online work for their homework.
David: That's interesting. I've certainly learned the hard way. I have not been able to turn it off at six PM. I have to turn it off, at least, an hour before I go to bed. Otherwise, I'll just be wired and will have trouble getting good sleep.
Joanie: Absolutely. I'm also concerned that we're not learning enough good face-to-face skills to deal with annoying people and work through difficult issues. Online, it's easy to click them off, shun them, or flame them. It's very easy to be confrontive online, or to just disconnect them from your buddy list. In person, it's much more difficult.
We don't do long-term relationships very well. You can look at our divorce statistics as one indicator, but that doesn't mean that the rest of the couples who are together have intimate, respectful and mutual relationships. This is really a concern for me.
I've asked young people how many relationships - same gender, heterosexual marriage, living together - they could emulate, that you want for yourself and the answer I get over the last 23-35 years, has been zero or one.
Joanie: It's rarely more than one. That's not good enough.
David: Well I think we're coming to the end of our time here. Is there any last thing that you would like to say? How would you like to sum this up?
Joanie: I want to remind parents to use the 'crossing the street' metaphor to guide their children and teens online. They should remember that it's not the Internet that's bad or good, but what we do with it. We can use the Internet to have more meaningful connections with ourselves and other people, or we can use it in ways that just promulgates the status quo, which will lead us to a very sorry state in the world.
I really encourage people to think more deeply about the world we live in, and the way we interact with each other. We need to make all our connections more authentic and meaningful, in the light of our 24-hour day, and some of the urgent issues confronting us.
David: Well Dr. Joanie Gillispie, thanks so much for being my guest today on Wise Counsel.
Joanie: You're very welcome, Dave. And thank you for all those nice things you said about my book. I appreciate it.
David: I hope you enjoyed this interview with my guest, Dr. Joanie Gillispie. As you could tell in the interview, I'm quite impressed by the job, she and her co-author Jayne Gackenbach, did in writing this book. If you're a parent, an educator or a clinician, I think you'll find this book to be a valuable resource. You can get more information about Dr. Gillispie from her website at www.DrJoanieGillispie.com (no longer online).
You've been listening to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by CenterSite, LLC. Until next time, this is Dr. David Van Nuys, and you've been listening to Wise Counsel.