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The Online Disinhibition Effect

John Suler, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Science and Technology Center, Rider University, outlined some concepts of internet psychology in an online text titled, The Psychology of Cyberspace. In the article is a section called The Online Disinhibition Effect, with the following subheadings:

The Online Disinhibition Effect

You Don’t Know Me (dissociative anonymity)
You Can’t See Me (invisibility)
See You Later (asynchronicity)
It’s All in My Head (solipsistic introjection)
It’s Just a Game (dissociative imagination)
We’re Equals (minimizing authority))
Personality Variables
True Self?
Self Constellations Across Media
Altering Self Boundary

While the article, produced originally in 1996 may be old for the purposes of citation in a PubMed/Medline peer-reviewed, evidence-based current article, I find it fascinating and relevant today, when I study myself and my online behavior. Scanning the list above, I think I have done them all.

I recently related some observations that I made of people during a time in my life when I spent time sitting on a curb, observing and judging people, in an article titled, Embracing Bohemianism. Sometimes, sitting in front of a screen, I find myself doing exactly the same thing. Why is this?

For one thing, despite massive evidence to the contrary, I still look for evidence that ‘those things’ happen to ‘other people.’ Those Things can be anything from the real traumatic horror of a murder in the family to an unfortunate event that cascades. I often drive up and down the streets of the internet looking for the car wreck to gawk at, not involve myself in, and then gloat about how wonderful I am for rubbernecking but not quite ambulance chasing.

When I was a kid I learned about sticks, stones and words. But later, I found out that words do hurt. For a while there, everything hurt. Words. The lack of words. Expressions, body language, tone. The interesting thing about the internet is that, although it is just typed words on a screen that I am looking at, I fill in with body language and tone that is not there. Perhaps this is where I get into trouble.

I grew up, went to college, entered the workforce, experienced life, pain, prison, long-term unemployment and a bunch of other stuff that comes with age, maybe a few more bumps than some and less than others. I try to boil it all down from time to time. This may all change with time, age and more life, and I do not always do this just right, but here is what I have learned in a nutshell:

-Never assume anything.
-If it’s not one thing, it’s another.
-Those things that happen to those other people can be these things happening to me at any time.

To put the online experience into perspective (and keep the migraines at bay) I find solace by taking walks in the woods and along the creeks. The Great Blue Herons and the turtles and the birds and fish must collectively groan seeing such a pathetic creature practically running toward them each day for comfort. They take it in stride. I bring them crumbs and snacks, which they don’t need, but sometimes accept, because they are gracious.

Running to the woods for a nature fix has worked for me since I was a kid. Even though we now have virtual woods to visit online, the virtual woods are too clean, and they lack a breeze, a smell. They lack chemistry in much the same way that a virtual conversation is missing something. Some of the best conversations I have had have been silent and in person.

With this all in mind and re-examining the categories above, I can negate nearly every one. You don’t know me but you do. You can’t see me but you can. It is all in my head but it isn’t. Such is the nature of community.

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