International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Peering into the Internet's Future (Part I)

Posted 1 January 1997 in StressPoints by David V. Baldwin, PhD

What will the Internet be like in a few months or years? How might it assist you in trauma or disaster work? This twopart series focuses on current uses and exciting future developments, and how these might affect trauma research and clinical work.

Basically, the Internet allows people and organizations from around the world to communicate with others, publicly and privately, in near real time. The Internet means efficient information exchanges, without the normal geographical or hierarchical restrictions. Some of the consequences of this are obvious; some are not.

Current Uses
New uses of the Internet are evolving daily. Research projects, for example, can solicit subjects via the 'Net, broadening the available data pool. It is possible to publish an article almost immediately on the Web. Others can review it and comment quickly, allowing a submission to change - as a living document - reflecting new thinking or correcting errors. Web journals, such as Charles Figley's Traumatology (http://psy.uq.edu.au/PTSD/trauma/traumaj.html), are springing up, offering advantages over print. They're faster: e-mail speeds the peer-review process and publication. They're also cheaper: paper and print costs are avoided, and detailed, color figures can be scanned in and easily incorporated within an electronic file. In fact, the Internet was initially developed for this very purpose: to allow distant researchers to discuss their work and collaborate efficiently.

Preprint archives already allow ready access to works in press in standard peer-reviewed paper journals [e.g., Steven Harnad's Behavioral and Brain Sciences, or Psycoloquy (http://cogsci.ecs.soton.ac.uk/cgi-bin/psycoloquy)]. Some fields have adapted to this new medium more rapidly than others. In philosophy, neuroscience and consciousness studies, the Internet is becoming the first place to look for new research information. For a good example of this, visit the International Philosophical Preprint Exchange at http://www.L.Chiba-U.ac.jp/IPPE.html. With a few notable exceptions, psychology and the traumatic-stress field currently lag in adopting the Internet for this purpose.

The Internet's easy access to a fund of current information also benefits clients and clinicians. Clinicians can access research (using either PILOTS or Medline's online databases), read articles, network with peers and participate in mailing lists where cases or treatment issues are discussed. The Traumatic Stress Forum has served this function for almost three years now.

Survivors can also gain from specialized information. I receive frequent e-mail comments from individuals who learned something helpful about their PTSD symptoms from visiting my Web site "I'm not alone" and "I'm not crazy" are two recurrent themes. Sometimes these messages come from countries where PTSD is poorly understood and underdiagnosed, or from individuals who otherwise would not find such detailed information.

Survivors can find support and communicate with others who have similar symptoms in other venues as well, such as the Usenet newsgroup alt.support.trauma-ptsd and others.

In disaster work, the Internet may also play an important role. I saw this happen on the alt.current-events.la-quake newsgroup following the Northridge (Calif.) earthquake. Local phone lines are commonly repaired before long-distance lines. This meant that if someone in Boston wanted to find out how Aunt Susie in Santa Monica was doing, one good way was to join a Usenet newsgroup started shortly after the quake, and ask. Someone in Santa Monica could look out their window or walk down the street, and report perhaps that Aunt Susie's apartment building was condemned, but that everyone had gotten out OK.

The Internet will continue to grow to meet additional needs of the trauma community. Possible future uses will be covered in Part II of this article.

E-mail: dvb@teleport.comWWW: http://gladstone.uoregon.edu/~dvb/trauma.htm OR http://www.teleport.com/~dvb/trauma.htm