WHILE WE are all too aware of how technology is impacting our lives—especially in terms of making things easier and assisting us at each and every step—there is little thought on how it’s changing mindsets. Technology, over the past decade, has brought us ways to redefine our lives. And a large role in this change has been played by social media. Though we have personal assistants on our phones, laptops and tablets that do everything, from booking appointments to making reservations (and the jury is out on whether they are making us smarter or dumber), what is unquestionable is that they are changing the way we perceive things. So are we happier on Facebook and Twitter? More successful on LinkedIn? Or are we getting sadder on these social platforms? Who better to answer these questions than a cyberpsychologist? Mary Aiken, director of Cyberpsychology Research Network and advisor to Europol, in her book, The Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online, delves into not only how we are interacting with technology, but also how technology is interacting with us.
Though there is much research in the field of cyberpsychology and more and more people are now trying to define this new phenomenon—especially at a time when our lives are being constricted to the world of social networking—most end with a cheery optimism of ‘everything is fine’ or will be eventually. But Aiken, in going as far as saying that everything is good, also shows the dark side of the world of Internet by taking up issues like addiction, cyberbullying, the deep Web, fetishes, romance and herd mentality.
The first chapter deals with the issue of sexuality in an open Internet world. Aiken does well not to blame everything on technology, but does believe that what the Internet has allowed is an acceptability of behaviour that may have been unacceptable a decade ago. Moreover, she goes on to describe terms like ‘cranking’, ‘cyber-exhibitionism’ and ‘cyber voyeurism’, which one may have never heard of before, to relate to the issue of sexuality in the new cyber world. The highlight of the book is her research on the deep Web, cyber-bullying and cyber babies (she describes the impact of technology on this generation that is hooked on to tablets right from babyhood). There are enough anecdotes, case studies and research to keep one engaged and interested, as Aiken introduces the reader to a world of new terminology like ‘cyberchondria’. “My own particular concern is the impact of technology on the developing child. The Internet has opened the world up to our children, yet it gives the world access to them too. I don’t think most people know enough about this,” she says in the book.
In the chapter on the deep Web, the book defines that side of the Internet that most people don’t know about. Aiken does well to bring out the aspects of illegal transfers, prostitution, smuggling and drugs in her study, but she doesn’t stop there. In the last chapter on cyber frontier, she tries to make sense of the fast changing world, while also presenting some solutions to deal with this rapid transformation. Her ideas on cyber Magna Carta and a transdisciplinary approach seem refreshing—she talks about redefining the very architecture of the Internet.
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While Aiken’s research does bring up some refreshing points, it somehow doesn’t live up to the expectations. Those who possess some knowledge of the Internet would already know about the existence of most of these phenomenon, if not the fancy terms that Aiken attaches to them. Also, the book follows a set pattern, where it first delves into a psychological issue and then analyses and redefines it in terms of the Internet. Although there are interesting tidbits about technology in the form of anecdotes, the author stretches these a bit too far in some cases. Even if Aiken does make some valid arguments, the book makes her seem as more of an alarmist.
But for those who know little about the Internet, the book is a good guide to understand that world and its workings. Besides, Aiken does not fumble on the central theme of ‘impact of technology on children’—the book can really come in handy for the baby-boomer generation, helping them understand how technology will impact their children’s world and what they can or can’t be shielded from. However, what really differentiates Aiken is her take on humanity and artificial intelligence. “Looking ahead, the gender battles of previous century will seem like a picnic when compared with what’s coming next: the battle between humans and artificial intelligence” she says.