December 6, 1999
Contributions of the Internet
Jim Till PhD
As we approach the year 2000, we can expect many predictions about how the future might unfold during the next millennium. In particular, there seems to be general agreement that the internet will change ways in which we communicate, relate, learn and perhaps, even think, about most things that matter to us, such as health and health care (1). But, exactly how? Nobody knows, but some guesses can be made.
For example, the future of journals devoted to the publication of research on health-related topics seems uncertain (2). It's possible that many journals that currently exist will disappear. Instead, research studies will probably be published in huge electronic databases, such as 'PubMed Central' (3), or the database proposed by the 'Santa Fe archivists' (4). The primary job of surviving journals may be to visit these databases, focus on subjects that are of special interest to a particular group, such as health professionals or researchers, and "present them in as sexy and appealing a form as they can manage" (2). In the meantime, many experiments are under way, via the internet, on ways to access, share and exchange information. This website is one example. We are seeing the emergence of 'nested' sets of 'signposts' that point toward the exact kind of information we happen to be looking for via the internet. As we move from one set of links to another, we can move from access to rather superficial knowledge about a wide range of topics, to an opportunity for much more extensive exploration of particular topics. Such 'signpost' websites (5) might include links to discussion groups (such as the Breast-Cancer Discussion Group). Discussion groups permit topics of mutual interest to individuals to be examined in detail, either publicly, in messages that are archived (6), or privately, via an exchange of personal emails.
A good prediction seems to be that: "Knowledge will come not in distinct chunks" ... "but rather as part of a rich web that will cater simultaneously both for those who want a bite and those who want a full banquet" (2).
1. Jadad AR, Promoting partnerships: challenges for the internet age. BMJ 1999; 319; 761-764 (18 Sept). [Full text]
2. Berger A, Smith R, New technologies in medicine and medical journals. BMJ 1999; 319: 0 (13 Nov). [Full text]
3. PubMed Central. [Link to NIH webpage];[Link to Pubmed Central Front Page]
5. Jim Till's Links [Examples of links about cancer]
Note: The webpages cited in these references were accessed on December 3, 1999.Jim Till, Ph.D
Jim Till, Ph.D., Joint Centre for Bioethics, and Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto
c/o Ontario Cancer Institute, University Health Network, 610 University Avenue, Room 9-416
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5G 2M9