Editorial – A Tangled Web

Isn’t it great, this World Wide Web?

Every day, billions of people catch a virtual wave, surfing the news, posting pictures of their cute kid or puppy or kitten, shopping, doing research–you name it.

In fact, there’s so much information available on the web (with more being added every day) that a single person could never view it all in their entire lifetime. And all this access to information, all this exchange of data, empowers people–or does it?

A recent article in The Tyee (1) reminds us of the dangers involved in having too much of a good thing. In 2006, Andrew Feldmar tried to cross the border into the U.S. Mr. Feldmar is a respected 66-year-old Vancouver psychotherapist with a long and impressive resume (including an MA in Psychology, work for the UN, published books and articles, and interviews on CBC Radio’s Ideas).

He doesn’t have a criminal record and has been crossing the U.S. ? Canadian border for years, on business and to visit his adult children who reside in the States.

This time, though, he was stopped. Not only that, he is now barred from ever entering the United States again. The problem? Information overload.

The border guard, you see, simply turned around and typed Mr. Feldmar’s name into an Internet search engine–and one of the results was an article published in a 2001 issue of Janus Head, the ?Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology, and the Arts? (2).

In the article, entitled ?Entheogens and Psychotherapy,? (3) Mr. Feldmar discussed his experiments with LSD-25 during the 1960s.

That did it. He was fingerprinted, asked to sign a statement admitting to having used LSD, and turned back to Canada. (For the record, his article also says that in his practice he would ?never suggest the possibility that therapy could encompass the use of entheogens,? (3) and that he does not suggest to patients ?going on, or coming off psychiatric medications? (3). Too bad. The Homeland Security Act doesn’t necessarily allow a lot of leeway for the application of common sense.)

Now, what are the odds that this would have happened before the glorious age of information overkill? What are the chances that, without access to the web, that inquisitive border guard would have shouted to his co-worker in the next booth, ?Hey Bob, read anything about this guy in the latest journal of interdisciplinary studies in literature, continental philosophy, phenomenological psychology, and the arts??

It’s true that, as soon as he published his article, Mr. Feldmar opened his experiences to the public sphere. But That’s where his story becomes a caveat to those who allow anything (and usually way too much) about themselves to be made available on the web.

Because once this article floated into cyberspace, it left the (presumably) sympathetic audience of scholars and mental-health practitioners behind, those who would have possessed the education and experience to put this article into context, and became open to the scrutiny and interpretation of anyone. The world. Billions of people who, with instant access to so much information, may not have the time or resources to consider it and view it in its intended framework.

And That’s a fact that a lot of people seem to forget. After all, most of us wouldn’t walk up to a complete stranger in the street (or another country, for that matter) and spill the most intimate or trivial or ridiculous aspects of our lives. Yet That’s what millions of people do every day, every time they post pictures or information about themselves on the Web.

A crazy party or a hot date might be suitable fodder for conversation with your close friends, and those outrageous pictures from the last May 24 camping trip may be a riot–at least, until a potential employer gets a look at them.

The social networking sites MySpace and Facebook are a good example. Not all of the people posting seem to lack basic discretionary skills, but an awful lot of them do. In a New York Times article, job and college recruiters revealed that they often search the web, including sites like MySpace and Facebook, as part of the evaluation process. And what they’re finding is that people ?post risqué or teasing photographs and provocative comments about drinking? (4).

And That’s when the entire context of people’s actions takes a shift. they’re no longer just sharing personal information in the perfectly acceptable and healthy realm of friends and family. they’re exposing it to the world. Their parents. Their bosses. The government. Anyone who has a computer and the ability to spell their name.

Having access to information is important, and the web has proven to be an exciting forum for breaking down barriers, sharing ideas, and bringing unfettered discourse to people who, without cyberspace, might not have it.

But in Mr. Feldmar’s case, a noted professional writing about experiments relevant to his field, there’s a reminder that for all the positives, this unmitigated flood of information can have a downside too.

As we hurtle along on this technological juggernaut, the consequences of the information age will slowly begin to be seen, and this wonderful tool may well turn out to be a very tangled web indeed.

(1) The Tyee (2007). ?LSD as Therapy? Write about it, get barred from US.? Retrieved April 24, 2007, from http://thetyee.ca/News/2007/04/23/Feldmar/

(2) Janus Head. ?About the Journal.? Retrieved April 25, 2007, from http://www.janushead.org/jhinfo.cfm

(3) Janus Head (2001). ?Entheogens and Psychotherapy.? Retrieved April 24, 2007, from http://www.janushead.org/4-1/feldmar.cfm

(4) The New York Times (2006). ?For Some, Online Persona Undermines a Résumé.? Retrieved April 24, 2007, from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/11/us/11recruit.html?ex=1177646400&en=4ad61df56456cc81&ei=5070

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