24 March 2011

NeuroCulture Watch and 21st Century Primary Sources

The work of history in the age of internet technologies has surely become more complicated. Patient resources have transformed enormously since the time when Kathleen Chevassut was beginning her ill-fated research into filterable viruses that caused multiple sclerosis. In the interwar period and before there were few patient resources available. The idea of patient organizations (such as the MS, ALS, or Tourette's societies) representing patient interests was new. And certainly the doctor was the voice of authority in the doctor-patient relationship.

Things are quite different today. Patient advocacy groups proliferate. And sometimes they do not represent the interests of their patients very well. Today's patients need to be advocates for themselves. Enter the historian's problem of new primary sources in 21st century cyberculture. Patients today are supposed to need information on the go; and doctors are supposed to provide it to them. Now there is an app for that! And that means there are now mobile primary sources that historians need to worry about tracking. I do fear, however, that such new technologies make visible the very different experiences of class that patients must experience. Can't afford a mobile phone? That's okay. You probably can't afford health insurance either. Worried that these technologies represent an erosion in the quality of medical practice patients receive? They are likely harbingers of medical deprofessionalization.  

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