Tuesday, May 25, 2010

GPS for your Moods?

An NPR story (link below) described new smartphone apps that allow you to plot your moods or answer questions about your perception of your mental/emotional states that are shared with psychiatrists. This type of laundry list, flowchart, quasi-mathematical plotting out of moods, perceptions, and emotions dovetails neatly with the approach taken by psychiatrists (and to a lesser extent, psychologists or psychotherapists) who follow diagnostic criteria that taxonomically fit patients into increasingly Byzantine categories based on allegedly precise symptoms or behaviors. Like the Spanish conquistadors' absurdly intricate and fantastic invented racial categories under the casta system, rendered in series where men, women, and their offspring represented outcomes of intermingling types, the effort to control and define often betrays its own socially constructed nature and slippery outlines. (For an EXCELLENT ethnography of the mental health industry and a nuanced analysis of the construction of the category bi-polar in the mass media, see Emily Martin Bi-polar Expeditions. Mania and Depression in American Culture. Princeton Univ. Press, 2009)

Thanks to our own capitulation to omnipresent surveillance, we may add mental health to the list of 24-7 areas under observation with patients' own acquiescence. In any case, everyone's a psychiatrist these days, thanks to reality TV, we can see any number of kinds of apparently dysfunctional behavior, in some cases the therapy itself is the subject of the show, as in Dr. Drew's franchises, in others it is only part of the drama, as in last week's episode of Real Housewives of New York, where we witnessed what many believed was some kind of breakdown on the part of Kelly Bensimon. Twitter lit up with comments such as, she needs a psychiatrist, she is bi-polar, and she forgot to bring her meds on vacation.

In contrast to other marginalized groups' demands for greater "visibility" as a means to gain recognition and understanding, as in, Ellen came out of the closet and this benefits the LGBT community, with the onset of reality TV shows such as Hoarders: Buried Alive, or its friendlier competitor, Hoarders, the masses feel free to diagnose others freely but without an increase in empathy. And now, in yet another seeming proof of the prescience of Huxley's Brave New World, we will plug into our mood Foursquare or mental GPS, the better to be monitored and perhaps prompted to go get our Soma.


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