Social Transition Stress Disorder
In 2002, I wrote Broken Dreams, a guidebook for the Steve Jackson Games "Transhuman Space" role-playing game series. Broken Dreams covered global traumas such as conflict, social disorder, economic decline, and intellectual property. Part of the book concerned how various societies reacted to the big changes underway in the world, and in that section I included a brief description of a common response: Social Transition Stress Disorder, or STSD.
Here's how the description read:
Social Transition Stress Disorder, or STSD, first identified in 2052, is a chronic memetic illness affecting millions of people around the globe. Originally described as a traumatic reaction to interaction with robots (hence the common name, "cybershell-shock"), STSD is now recognized as encompassing a broad range of psychological effects arising from rapid, discontinuous social change. Known triggers for STSD include significant economic disruption or transitions, encounters (particularly unpleasant or threatening encounters) with new technologies, and paradigm shifts resulting from assimilation of new memeplexes. Symptoms vary, but usually manifest as depression and apathy; less frequently, paranoid anxiety or irrational hatreds (sometimes including violence) can result.
Incidence of STSD rises with the speed, degree, and surprise of a given change, and is typically cumulative – a succession of moderate cultural shocks can be much more damaging than a single large event. STSD is most commonly found in societies undertaking a rapid transition from Third Wave (or pre-Third Wave) to Fourth Wave culture and technology, although cases have also resulted from advanced regions falling into rapid decline (due to environmental or economic disasters). Treatment, typically a combination of memetic therapy and designer drugs, is well-understood, and can be very effective. Unfortunately, many of those most in need of STSD treatment are those least able to afford it.
I intended STSD to be something arising in a world of too-rapid change, a more medical/psych update of "future shock" -- something appearing late in this century, in a world of uploaded minds, self-aware AI, bioengineered robots, and so forth.
Looking back on this, however, it looks more like a description of the present. Set aside for a moment the in-game jargon about "Third Wave" and "Fourth Wave," cybershells and memes, and just think about what's being described here: psychological dislocation triggered by the social effects of big technological (or political, or demographic) changes.
One could easily diagnose the "keep government hands off my Medicare" screamers at political gatherings this Summer as suffering from STSD; certainly, the paranoid delusions about Obama's ancestry fit here. And it's not just politics. Moral panics around Facebook and anti-vaccination fears seem like manifestations of STSD, as well.
So what does this all mean?
Honestly, I'm not sure yet. It's definitely not just "new technology freaks people out, man," nor is it "[fill in the blank] just can't handle The Future." It's something more subtle, about perceived losses of control attributable to a world that differs in significant ways from the world they believed to be real.
My guess is that we're going to be seeing a lot more of it in the years to come.