Reviewed by James Maxwell, executive creative director, Teamspirit
...Mary Aiken’s book is one of those that you read and then insist on forcing upon others. It fascinated and scared me at the same time.
She’s a "forensic cyber psychologist" - an expert on human behaviour in cyberspace. She’s an adviser to Interpol, the FBI. and the White House on the psychology of online criminals. The book covers a lot of ground, but essentially looks at different elements of the cyber and technological realm and how they can and are affecting our behaviour.
She defines cyberspace as a unique environment — an actual space. Not an extension of the real world but a place where our normal characteristic behaviour can be altered dramatically.
Essentially, we act differently online than we do in real life. Think Twitter’s trolls, people ranting on email, people falling in love quicker online and you start to see the pattern pretty quickly - online disinhibition. She’s asking whether this alternative space is turning us more mentally disordered, anxious, obsessive, narcissistic, exhibitionist, body dysmorphic, psychopathic, schizophrenic. Her words not mine.
It can feel like moral crusade. But, and it’s a big ol’ but, the anecdotes are riveting. And the examples are… lurid. Personally, I had no idea what cranking is and I won’t explain here. I can, however, now see how someone with a mild fetish finds a community online and slowly ratchets up the fetish to become more severe.
The chapters on children, phones, gaming and tablets are shocking. She talks about how society has essentially become almost criminally negligent in the way it puts children in harm’s way of digital technology. Not just with regards to pornography, paedophilia, cyberbullying etc, but also how casual we are in putting technology in young hands with little or no research or industry responsibility. "The baby was gazing foggily upward .?.?. looking adoringly at the mother’s jaw, as the mother continued to gaze adoringly at her device."
It is a compelling read and I think, for the particularly digitally-addicted communications sector, should be passed around the studio – if anyone can look up from their Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr binges.
What is the effect on our psychology and our behaviours? In this alternate universe we’re almost anonymous and take on a different persona… one that doesn’t have to look someone else in the eye and see their reactions. A general void of responsibility and human interaction. I won’t lie. I feel like recommending this book to anyone with a kid, anyone who has a sex drive or enjoys online dating.
If you don’t have time to read the book, read this - key takeaways
Society has essentially become almost criminally negligent in the way it puts children in harm’s way of digital technology
Technology can warp our interaction with children and indeed their interaction with the world around them. There is no definitive research and the waning attention we give small children and babies (and vice versa) is worrying. In summation, don’t give kids that tablet.
Cyberspace and technology may be turning us more mentally disordered, anxious, obsessive, narcissistic, exhibitionist, body dysmorphic, psychopathic, schizophrenic.
Cyberspace needs some sort of regulation, without losing its purpose and sense of freedom.
The Cyber Effect by Mary Aiken is published by John Murray