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by Rangott Spliekin, Soviet News Agency TASS

During my brief visit to the United States in the fall of 1987, I was able to study certain specialized cases of split personalities. While they are considered harmless and perhaps tolerably eccentric by the American psychiatric establishment, it is acknowledged that it is a growing problem among young technicians.

Frustrated by a lack of popular recognition which continues to be focused on earners of large income (The "bottom line" as it is popularly called), these young geniuses are beginning to talk to themselves. But unlike the ramblers and murmurers we find here in Moscow, they use the technology available to individuals in America: the home computer.

A network of electronic bulletin boards exists in the U.S., connected by commercial telephone lines and available to almost anyone who has a computer and a telephone connection device known as a "modem." Individual subscribers can then sign in and talk to other, similarly uninspired individuals. The system was developed for the quick transfer of information but has degenerated into a remote, arms-length communications system.

In fact, anyone who can afford to have their home computers occupied most of the time can establish such a board with "free" software provided by generous programmers. When I suggested to an official of a conglomerate telephone company that it was they who created the software to keep technicians occupied instead of productive and to increase the profits of the telephone company, the charge was denied.

But I digress.

I interviewed Dr. George Sands of the Institute for Abnormal Electronic Behavior in Berkeley and he acknowledged that there is a growing problem am ong young technicians (which he insisted on calling "users") as the amount of bulletin boards continue to grow.

"There are actually more bulletin boards than users in the Bay Area [San Francisco and environs] and they kept talking and arguing with the same people. Some were clearly showing symptoms of boredom. A few clever ones signed on these boards under several names, taking on a new persona for each name. They would call under one name and answer under another name.

"In one case, a man in his mid-fifties had as many as six personas and possibly as many as eight. One of the personas was actually promoted to assistant system operator."

"How could that be?" I asked.

"The operator had never actually met this man. Nor heard his voice. In fact," he chuckled, "one of those personas was a woman. Now that couldn't happen if he had ever spoken to him on a voice line."

Dr. Sands dismissed my contention that the bulletin board system was dehumanizing, explaining that that was what was said about telephones when they were first developed. "Americans have too little history to take it seriously. They much prefer playing with their tools which they often mistake for toys. Ships were redesigned, in the Nineteenth Century, for quick, commercial, and sometimes revenue-evading, trips to all parts of the world. Soon afterwards, Americans were racing them for sport. The home computer is just another misused tool."

The real danger, he went on to say, is that more individuals will become isolated from their fellow men. "Home computers are much more entertaining than even T.V. and television has created a whole generation of stay-at-homers, referred sarcastically by some commentators as 'couch potatoes.'" If anything has staved off this horrible eventuality, he went on to say, it is the fact that more training is required to operate a home computer than a television set.

At the moment, only "the best and the brightest and the most eccentric" falling prey to this problem."

I asked the good doctor how such people can be spotted and institutionalized for their own good.

He gave the following indications.

1. Their homes lack most furniture, having only the bare essentials.

2. Everything is spotlessly clean except for the television set which will have a layer of dust on the screen.

3. The bed is never made.

4. There will be six or seven phone lines to the home.

5. Only computer manuals will be present, no other books.

6. The men will be almost universally divorced (no women have fallen prey to this yet despite the fact that some of the pathological personas are women) or be on the verge of divorce.

7. Their children, if any, will have run away from home. No very young victim has had any children.

8. Sexually, they will be inactive. At least, they won't reproduce.

9. As with alcoholics, they will be scrupulously careful to report to their jobs each day but they will be uncreative and rarely be promoted to positions of responsibilities. Not because of lack of abilities, but because they will evade the extra time necessary to accomplish these goals.

10. The refrigerator will contain only spoiled potato chips and half-opened cans of beers. Many of these users drink soft-drinks because of the high sugar content. One institutionalized case had not eaten in six days. He was found by the police in a small grocery store, after closing hours, with open bags of chips and six-packs of Cokes lying about, laughing hysterically and trying to dial out on the computerized cash register. When they saw the thick glasses and the plastic pen holder in his pocket, they notified Dr. Sands.

The United States government has tried unsuccessfully to introduce electronic bulletin boards in the Moscow area so our geniuses are similarly engaged in fruitless labor.

The great Pavlov once pointed out that to hypnotize a chicken, you merely need to draw a chalk line along pavement, place the chicken so its legs are on either side of the line and it will freeze. Human beings require a more complex hypnotic tool and television has served the state well over the years.

Now, such a hypnotic tool has been found for the intelligentsia. It's even got them talking to themselves.

Translated from PRAVDA

Translation (c) 1987 by Yves Barbero