The Cyber Effect: A pioneering cyberpsychologist explains how human behaviour changes online
by Mary Aiken (Hachette, $55)
Reviewed by Alex Beattie
A couple of years ago, there were reports that Silicon Valley executives were sending their children to tech-free schools. It was a story that dripped of irony: geeks in the heart of techno-utopia rejecting their ideology when it came to their own kids. But the story didn’t catch on, and an awkward question lingered. Why were the engineers of the future desperate to part their gadgets from their children?
Dr Mary Aiken offers and answer in her debut book, The Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behaviour Changes Online. And it’s something every parent should be interested in.
Yes, cyberpsychology is real and not a sci-fi subgenre. It’s an emerging field of psychology that specialises in studying the impact of emerging technologies on human behaviour. Aiken is arguably its most famous practitioner.
We’re all lab rats
According to Aiken, the Internet is the greatest unregulated social experiment of our time. We know of the perks: unbridled information access, crowdsourcing and accountability to the masses. But what we lack is an understanding of the problems and associated pathologies.
Aiken compares the digital experience to getting drunk. It’s fun, sometimes raucous – when our attention is online, we lose our inhibition. We are careless about the places we visit, what we say and who we engage with. But unlike a boozy blow-out, an evening online lingers. The digital hang-over doesn’t pass but is crystallized in HTML code. It gets worse.