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Health information technologies: the citizen and the individual?
  1. Luis David Castiel
  1. Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; castiel{at}

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    In many fields of knowledge, but especially in health domains, we are witnessing a colonisation of our societies by an alliance between generators of specialised knowledge and the panoply of technical macro-systems and communications, distribution, and consumption networks. We live with an overload of images, texts, and potential choices regarding our health. This has reshaped a generation of individuals as proto-patients without doctors, consumers of information technology goods and services in the quest to preserve their health.

    Societies of individuals drenched in the mass media submit to the new trinity: information, communication, technology. Such burgeoning information is not always congruent. Anxieties proliferate within a saturation of possibilities. Despite the internet’s relevant libertarian and democratising facet, there are techno-cultural requisites for accessing and enjoying it.

    Meanwhile, there are clear manifestations that technology is out of control, as observed in the proliferation of sites promoting paedophilia and nazi-fascism, instructions for chemical processes and laboratory techniques to produce psychoactive drugs (such as ecstasy), or even explosive devices in the intensification and expansion of fundamentalist terrorism that has used the web for its internal communications, a phenomenon that has led to restrictions and control on such flow of information.

    Social policies in the economically stronger countries have apparently provided greater equality within their societies. Although such policies have been “downsized” by neoliberal dictates and fiscal crises, they provided the underpinnings for citizens’ rights. Thus, these citizens, conscientious of their rights, were to judiciously occupy their place as well informed consumers dealing with the vicissitudes of the market in more autonomous fashion.

    Still, because of the inexorable contemporary process of individualisation, the individual constitutes a vector for attrition and fragmentation of the citizen. The individual enjoys personal freedom of choice, to the point of consuming what pleases him, unbelieving, indifferent, or at best cautious as to participating in effective action aimed at the “common good”. Meanwhile the citizen seeks his own wellbeing through that of the “city”. No matter how favourable the results, the quest for citizens’ common interests is viewed, at the limit, as a limitation on personalised freedom of choice by the de jure individual. But for him to become an individual de facto, it is imperious that he first becomes a citizen.1 This is one of the many dilemmas we must tackle in this dizzying hypertechnological era.