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Technology has often been blamed for our increasing sense of alienation and isolation, both from one another and from society. It would be quite ironic, then, to say that the Internet – perhaps the pinnacle of modern technology – is a medium that can bring people together, enable virtual communities, and empower entire communities to take collective action. The internet can empower productive communities and social movements in ways that would have been considered miraculous a mere 20 ago.
Sociologist and author Howard Rheingold called the Internet a “”human cooperation amplifier”, alluding to its paradoxical ability to both ensnare individuals in a private web of alienation and virtual seclusion while, in stark contrast, providing the opportunity and the means for the formation of cooperative relationships and human bonds, often in the unlikeliest of places and in the most unlikely circumstances.
Rheingold mentions many social movements, often in underdeveloped and repressive societies, that have coalesced and arisen in ways that would’ve been impossible without the Internet. Oppressed communities have occasionally scored victories, such as the People Power protests in the Phillipines that used mass electronic communication as early as 2001 to organize a popular insurrection against a corrupt government, giving birth to the only successful bloodless coup ever waged in modern history.
A political coup is not the only kind of social movement that can be empowered by the Internet. In the “industrialized world of plenty,” many a disadvantaged group have found the means of finding a collective voice in an age of ever-spiraling information downpour, and most importantly, they have been heard.
Redefining the language of oppression is given a previously-unfounded opportunity to take place on a massive scale. Nowhere is the opportunity as ripe for this as it is for those with mental illness, those who are at the “farthest wrong end” of the Digital Divide. Where the disparity is greatest, the opportunity for progress is that much greater still.
“The internet can be considered a great equalizer – a tool for the empowerment of people with mental health problems and a means to challenge the stigma of mental illness in the wider community.”
Such recognition has grown in recent years and has taken root in the wider health care community. A survey of online literature will reveal that the discourse in the health care community today is clearly changing regarding the role of Internet access and its place in the promotion of mental health.
Kazuhito Naruse is a web designer/consultant for The Painted Brain, software trainer for CodiePie, and a frequent contributor to Painted Brain News.