Where are you working at the moment?
I’m in the School of Information Systems and Technology, Faculty of Informatics, University of Wollongong. I’m mainly teaching within the Social Policy major, which looks at the social implications of technology on the individual, business and government.
What’s your primary interest in health?
I’ve always been fascinated by the miniaturisation of technology, especially implantable devices entering the human body. I’ve often said we have the potential to be walking around with the ENIAC in our body (the ENIAC was the first computer which took up the space of a large room!). Into the future, we might all be bearers of tiny implantable microchips for one reason or another - physiological measure for human activity monitoring, location based services for rehabilitation and medical insurance purposes, or health identifiers for citizen ID for medical services.
What are your main research interests?
I’ve joined two panels in IHMRI’s Neuroscience and Mental Health theme: ‘neurological disorders’ and ‘child and adolescent mental health’. I have an interest in looking at breakthrough technologies, such as brain pacemakers that allow for deep brain stimulation aiding patients with Parkinson’s disease or Tourette’s syndrome, epilepsy or even depression. I’m specifically interested in the side-effects of these technologies and the cost/benefit to the individual.
I’m also interested in how emerging technologies such as online social networking tools may be affecting adolescent mental health. New technologies - if used appropriately - are extremely beneficial, but when misused can cause people to feel depressed and isolated, drive obsessive compulsive disorders out of control (e.g. checking for messages thousands of times a day) and even lead to suicide. Although researchers have long suspected a link between technology addiction (especially in an online and increasingly mobile setting) and the emergence of new clinical disorders, serious studies are still in their infancy.
Have you been involved in health and medical research before?
I haven’t had much direct experience in health and medical research, but I’ve studied bioethical aspects and written on the concepts of ‘uberveillance’ and ‘electrophorus’ with collaborator A Prof Michael G Michael. Our published papers, which have crossed over into aspects of health and medical research, have been for the greater part exploratory. For example, the term ‘uberveillance’ has already been cited by health informatics researchers in relation to pervasive monitoring of physiological measures, yet we ourselves have not yet conducted any large-scale funded research in this domain. We hope to team up with medical practitioners for future collaborative opportunities.
What led you to join the IHMRI Research Network?
Interdisciplinary research has always appealed to me because of the novelty and discovery aspect. Joining IHMRI may give me an opportunity to help medical practitioners evaluate the success of clinical trials related to my research portfolio. For example, psychiatrists may be experts in diagnosing a disorder like obsessive compulsive disorder, but may have little technology-specific know-how on topics such as cyberbullying or phishing attacks. These ‘new disorders’ are not so simple to detect; they have a hidden dimension to them which makes it more difficult for family and friends to assist.
What would you hope to come out of your involvement in the Network?
My main aim in joining the Network is to raise awareness of the health implications of emerging social technologies. I’m certainly not a ‘Luddite’, but placing new and powerful technologies such as smart phones in the hands of inexperienced young people can be fraught with danger. Ideally I’d like to run workshops targeted at parents and carers, and others for adolescents, on how best to utilise new technologies, how to respond to random online attacks and to be able to delineate between acceptable use and misuse of technology.
Citation: IHMRI. "Meet a Network Member: Katina Michael", Illawarra Medical Health Research Institute, UOW, p. 6.