This is a very important book.
I’ve been reading and thinking a lot recently about issues of the internet, social media and mental health – not just for this week’s blog series, but also for a novel I’m preparing. The Cyber Effect explains what the main issues are, how important they are, and, above all, how young people and children are being affected and how little time we have to halt the damage.
Dr Mary Aiken is a highly experienced lecturer, consultant and researcher in the new field of cyberpsychology, which in a nutshell is the study of how the internet and digital media affects human behaviour. If anybody is going to sound the alarm, it should be her. And she does. This book is something of a personal crusade, but that makes it a better read.
Aiken states a few central conclusions in this worrying, occasionally jaw-dropping read. These are: the internet is changing behaviour in the real world by a process of cyber-migration, where online extremes begin to appear offline; children are at extraordinary risk of psychological damage because of the actions of unregulated international tech corporations; a huge social experiment is in effect being performed on the human race, an experiment entirely unmoderated, the effects of which on children in particular should be a matter for immediate concern; very little research has been done on even the basic psychological effects of the online world.
One of the effects of the internet for instance is to amplify behaviour already prevalent in real-world society. We still live in a world designed by boys for boys. That, alas, is even more the case online.
This book is an urgent warning to us all. The final chapter is a summary of all the actions Aiken thinks could and should be taken to halt this unfolding situation before it’s too late, but I doubt many of her thoughts will be taken up. As she observes, there are small pockets of hope at the moment, but the overall design of the internet militates against any serious work being done to improve it, a situation outlined recently by its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee. It’s basically a new Wild West out there, designed by people who don’t care about the consequences of their actions. Nothing will happen because those who control and exploit via the digital world stand to lose so much. Of course, they will only lose it for themselves – theirs is an entirely selfish outlook. But they don’t care anyway.
It would be great to see this book in every school, college and university library. It should be an essential read for all, especially for those who have or who work with children. Through unregulated use of the internet, humanity is currently failing an entire generation.