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The Cyber Effect: A Pioneering…

The Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human…

by Mary Aiken

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A renowned cyberpsychologist (no, I hadn’t heard of that job title either) discusses the impact of the cyberworld which we are all living in, our 24/7 connection to the internet, and the effect that it is having on a generation that are growing up with the internet as a huge part of their lives.

Admittedly, the subtitle of this book, A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist explains how human behaviour changes online – led me to expect something different. I thought it was going to be more about how perfectly decent and reasonable people often descend into bullying, unkind, trolling behaviour when hiding behind the anonymity of their keyboard. There is a chapter that deals with this, but generally speaking the book is more generalised, but still an interesting subject to discuss.

I wanted to read it because I do think this is an important and fascinating subject. Because I find it interesting and upsetting to walk into a restaurant and see a couple eating at the same table, but not really together because both of them have their eyes glued to their phones. Because it’s not unusual to see a group of young friends walking together, each looking at their own smartphone screens. Because there is now a whole wealth of knowledge at people’s fingertips, yet a lot of it is false or biased.

Unfortunately I also found this book to be incredibly biased. Yes, technology is isolating for some people, but there is so much good about it too. Dr Aiken says in the introduction that she wants to keep the book fairly science-light, which she does. This makes it easier to read in many respects, but also means that a lot of what she says comes over as purely her opinion with very little if anything to back it up. There’s a lot of “I would guess…” “It is my belief that…” “I believe…” etc. She does state a couple of times that there are a lot of positives about the internet, but doesn’t really acknowledge what they are, and focusses heavily on the negative.

Some of the subjects raised are vitally important – the aforementioned effect of bullying online, and how it is affecting mainly young people. There was one chapter about the effects of screens at close range to a child’s face and the effect it can have on that child’s vision. Cyberchondria – i.e., the obsessive checking of physical symptoms online and being convinced that you have the most serious disease imaginable. But none of these are new phenomenons. I remember the debates about whether it was right or just lazy to stick a child in front of the tv for very long. Bullying is unfortunately something that has been around as long as humans have, and hypochondria is a long recognised problem for many people – sure the internet has given people a new way to do all of these things, but it hasn’t caused the problems in the first place.

Although there is little anecdotal evidence to support what Dr Aiken says, she does occasionally come up with examples of what she is trying to say – usually tragic, anomalous stories (let’s face it, you can find one story to support almost anything you believe if you look hard enough).

I will say that Dr Aiken has an engaging and readable style and had the book been more balanced I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more. As it was, it comes across as more of a lost opportunity than anything else. An important subject, but a more open-minded discussion would have been nice. ( )
  Ruth72 | Mar 31, 2017 |
The topics covered could not be more important and some of the material should be compulsory reading. I’m thinking in particular of the section on children under two and the harm that can be done to them by placing them in front of screens whilst simultaneously depriving them of the eye contact and opportunities for play they used to get because we are too busy looking at screens ourselves. The research she presents here is well-referenced and compelling as is her takedown of the lack of research by an industry happy to make money out of claims that their software will create “Baby Einsteins.” Her analysis of the psychological needs of older children and how screen time can hinder socialisation and how developmental stages of children make it difficult for them to understand and integrate online material is also excellent.

As for the rest of the book I have very grave reservations. It’s hard not to descend into the kind of abuse she rightly abjures in the online world so I will try not to but quite frankly a great deal of the book consists of her own personal opinion garnished with anecdotal case studies and cherry-picked quotes from those she already agrees with. More seriously where she has been careful to quote relevant research and findings on some sections of the books, on others she fails the test of paying proper attention to her sources and making assertions which are sometimes questionable and sometimes false.

Questionable for example is her treatment of Ross Ulbricht and Silk Road where she accepts the prosecution case against him without ever considering the doubtful nature of some of the evidence or the likely illegal online searches carried out by the FBI to find the servers used by Silk Road. Later in the book she spends a great deal of time looking at what she sees as the evils of illegal online drug sales without ever discussing the possibility that it may cause less crime and expose users to less violence. There is an unwritten assumption that the war on drugs is a good thing and that anyone who thinks otherwise is not worth her consideration.

Another example of poor research is her linking of the killers of James Bulger to the suggestion that they were influenced by watching the film Child’s Play 3. Whilst widely reported in the press at the time this theory has been thoroughly discounted and even a few minutes on the internet would have confirmed this, unless you want to include old stories from the Daily Mail, not noted for its veracity.

Often she spins fantasies of cyber effects which may form the basis for academic papers but which fail the test of common sense. Of course we can invent the term cyberchondria to describe those who obsessively research their symptoms online but it’s hardly a new phenomena. In the olden days we used to have these things called books and nearly every home would have at least one medical tome. That’s not to mention the fact that we could obsessively research our illness in the local library or by talking to our relatives who always had a wealth of advice on health matters and all of it just as unreliable as the pages now served up by Google.

Much of the book is the latest form of moral panic. Once it was horror comics, then it was video nasties followed by video games and now all things cyber. That’s not to say that there’s nothing wrong with cyberspace nor that we shouldn’t all work to make it a better place to be but it isn’t the root of all evil in the modern world.

I’m really frustrated by this book. About twenty per cent of it is outstanding and should be on everybody’s agenda but the rest of it is a jumble of opinion and poor research. She’s keen to justify cyber-psychological jargon so here are a few terms which seem to describe the author’s personality: authoritarian, Freudian, anti-democratic, externally referenced, conservative, fearful, over-confident. And if you ever wondered why the technology in CSI Cyber makes no sense whatsoever then know that she is the technical advisor to the show ( )
  basilisksam | Sep 19, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0812997859, Hardcover)

A groundbreaking exploration of how cyberspace is changing the way we think, feel, and behave
Mary Aiken is the world’s leading expert in forensic cyberpsychology—a discipline that combines psychology, criminology, and technology to investigate the intersection where technology and human behavior meet. In this, her first book, Aiken has created a starting point for all future conversations about how the Internet and our devices are shaping our perception of the world, development and behavior, societal norms and values, children, safety, and security. Cyberspace is an environment full of surveillance, but who is looking out for us? The Cyber Effect offers a fascinating and chilling look at a future we can still do something about.
Drawing on her own research and extensive experience with law enforcement, Mary Aiken covers a wide range of subjects from the impact of screens on the developing child to the explosion of teen sexting, and the acceleration of compulsive and addictive behaviors online (gaming, shopping, pornography). She examines the escalation of cyberchondria (anxiety produced by self-diagnosing online), cyberstalking, and organized cybercrime in the Deep Web. Aiken provides surprising statistics and incredible-but-true case studies of hidden trends that are shaping our culture and raising troubling questions about where the digital revolution is taking us.
The Cyber Effect will upend your assumptions about your online life and forever change the way you think about the technology you, your friends, and family use. Readers will gain a new understanding of the rapid change taking shape around us and come away with critical tools to become part of this very necessary conversation.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 27 Jun 2016 11:48:54 -0400)

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