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Steinberger, C.B. (2009). Cyberspace: The Nodal Self in the Wide Wide World—Adolescents Signing-On. Psychoanal. Rev., 96(1):129-144.

(2009). Psychoanalytic Review, 96(1):129-144

Cyberspace: The Nodal Self in the Wide Wide World—Adolescents Signing-On

Claire Beth Steinberger, EdD, JD

The thirteen-year-old boy sat in his California home, eyes fixed on a computer screen. He had never run with the popular crowd and long ago had turned to the Internet for the friends he craved. But on this day, Justin Berry's fascination with cyberspace would change his life.

Weeks before, Justin had hooked up a Web camera to his computer, hoping to use it to meet other teenagers online. Instead, he heard only from men who chatted with him by instant message as they watched his image on the Internet. To Justin, they seemed just like friends, ready with compliments and always offering gifts. (Eichenwald, 2005)

Thus begins a journey of unexpected consequences by a lonely teenager. Living alone with his mother and feeling rejected by his classmates, Justin had turned to the Internet for peer support. As a young boy, he had been beaten to the point of hospitalization by an alcoholic father who eventually abandoned the family. His story (and the public and legal attention it received) sheds light on how developmental conflict entwines with technology, interacting in a modern, sometimes bizarre, “techno-cultural” form. The sordid world that Justin enters reflects formative struggles of self-worth and masculine identity. Moreover, an assumption can be made that his emotional problems and painful family background are shared by many of the adults who pay for and encourage the illicit exchanges.

On one trajectory, the Internet is a template for individuals to creatively and/or interpersonally act on uncomfortable affects and ideas.

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