When considering their influence on the emergence, maintenance and disappearance of psychiatric illnesses and trendy syndromes, technologies show a two-faced character. They often present themselves – within a larger field of influence – in a double role, as both the cause of an illness as well as the healer. An appropriate metaphor for this double role is the Greek notion of the pharmakon: an anaesthetic that has healing properties and yet is poisonous. It is not just about illnesses that have been partly caused by technology but also about the way in which technologies that are intended to be therapeutic can heal as well as cause new damage when they are used to treat such fashionable illnesses. To illustrate this point the article discusses three case studies: the relationship between the emergence of electricity and the neurological complaints and nervous disorders that occurred at the time; the introduction of the vibrator at the time of the hysteria epidemic; and the relationship between video games that were designed specifically for the armed forces and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among war veterans.

Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision
Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis

Muller, Elke. (2013). Tijdgeestziekten en hun technologische pharmakon. Tijdschrift voor Mediageschiedenis, 16(1), 63–80. doi:10.18146/tmg.260