John Suler's The Psychology of Cyberspace
This review dated Jan 96 (1.0)

Review of

The Internet Regression

by Norman Holland

"Talking on the Internet, people regress. It's that simple."

That's how Holland begins his paper. And then he proceeds to back up his statement with an intriguing psychoanalytic (emphasizing drive theory) analysis of what he considers the three major signs of regressive behavior in cyberspace: flaming, sexual harrassment, and (curiously) the extraordinary generosity and openness you sometimes see on the internet. He then traces these regressions to the transference reactions people have to the computer itself - unconscious fantasies about power, dominance, sex, narcissistic gratification and mirroring, oral engulfment, and parental acceptance and love. At the heart of the regression is the individual's tendency to confuse the person and the machine. In cyberspace the user sees the computer as human and other people as something less than human - resulting in a disinhibition of sexual and aggressive acting out.

Holland's arguments are both fascinating and convincing. There is no doubt that people regress on the internet. Anyone who has been consumed by a flame war or visited some of the more outlandish "alt" newsgroups will attest to that. Cyberspace weds the highest intellectual functions and most primitive instincts of the human personality, as Holland suggests. It may also be a space wherein the more sublime aspects of humanity are expressed. Humans, by their very nature, are always looking for new ways to express themselves and connect to others, to find new media for creative activity, to expand their consciousness beyond its usual boundaries - and even to help others through generosity and honesty that transcends unconscious conflicts. Cyberspace can be a place where these things happen.

Between the lines of his analysis, Holland himself seems to be hinting at some of these ideas. He admits that he truly enjoys the internet. "I think it's something new and amazing and quite wonderful in the spectrum of human relations." In fact, he ends by saying that the internet is "fun." Perhaps that fun is not necessarily or always a sign of regression. Perhaps it can be a progression. In a Winnicottian sort of way, we can think of cyberspace as a space for playing - a playing with ideas, relationships, and personal identity in a realm somewhere between self and other, a realm of creativity, self-development, and maybe even self-transcendence.

Graphic design by SoundLightMind Media Design and Development, photos by Peter Hince

See also in The Psychology of Cyberspace:

The online disinhibition effect
Transference to one's computer and cyberspace
The Bad Boys of Cyberspace: Deviant Behavior in Online Multimedia Communities and Strategies for Managing it

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