The Internet has done a lot of good for the world by making information easily available. This means that questions seldom need to wait long to be answered, curiosities are put to rest quickly, hobbies are nurtured in ways they never could have before the ‘net. There is, however, the dark side of information availability. Blissful ignorance is all too easily dispelled. I now know what “Two Girls One Cup” and “GoatSe” are, for instance, despite vigorous attempts to un-know. One of the more irritating side effects, though, is the sharp increase in self-diagnosis.
For one thing, if you have even a mild case of hypochondria, for your own good, don’t got to WebMD. You will suddenly have every disease known to man. “My arm is itchy, maybe I got a mosquito bite” becomes “Oh dear lord I’ve been bitten by a brown recluse spider! I’m experiencing the early stages of a gangrenous slough!” Yes, according to the Internet, pain in your abdomen could mean stomach cancer. It could also mean you ate some bad chili for lunch. I’m sure that there have been plenty of times that the Internet has saved someone’s life by diagnosing an incredibly obscure illness. I’m also sure that the ratio of saved lives versus anxiety attacks over ebola infections that turn out to be razor rash is damn near zero.
Another big motivator for self-diagnosis is the desire to find an excuse. Let’s say that you’re a smoker, and you’ve developed a constant hacking cough. Your doctors, your friends, and your common sense all suggest that cutting down on the cigarettes might be a good idea. But you REALLY like smoking, and besides, the Internet says that over-fluoridation of the water supply could cause a cough. All you need to do is buy a three thousand dollar filtration system and you can continue burning through the cancer sticks. Sure, you COULD be overweight because you sit around all day eating fried chicken by the pallet load and drinking gravy, but isn’t it more likely that you’ve got a rare genetic disorder that causes you to gain weight no matter what you do? No sense dieting, since this medical forum says it won’t do any good, thanks to a syndrome named after two medical students no one has ever heard of. The Internet is really handy for finding ways to make your health problems “not your fault.”
The thing that bugs me most about Internet self-diagnosis is the whole concept of self-diagnosed behavioral disorders. Asperger’s Syndrome is a prime target here. A typical sequence is as follows:
1) I am socially awkward and people make fun of me for it.
2) I really like pokemon.
3) It says here that people with Asperger’s Syndrome can be socially awkward and have intense interests.
4) I must have Asperger’s Syndrome. Now people can’t make fun of me!
I’ve got news for you. Not everyone who has trouble talking to girls gets to have a clinical excuse. Some people are just awkward. As for the “getting made fun of” part? Well, technically you should never make fun of anyone, so making it slightly more socially unacceptable probably won’t cramp the style of your average schoolyard taunter. And if you think honestly think claiming to have something that sounds like “Ass Burgers” is going reduce your ridicule, maybe your obsession with pikachu isn’t your biggest mental problem.
There is nothing wrong with doing a little research on the ‘net, as long as you take it with a grain of salt. Doctors go to school for a long time, and get paid a lot of money, to diagnose and fix health problems. If they tell you to start taking insulin or you will die, maybe you should take their word over that article you read that said that diabetes can be treated by getting a cat. You know, the one that included the words “halistic” and “medicinication”? And if you are experiencing a health problem that is making vital fluids leak out of your body, you should think 911 and not Google. Unless Google has taken over the ambulances in your area. In which case, carry on.