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 is shaping development and behavior, societal norms and values, children, safety, security, and our perception of the world.
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 your family use. Listeners 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.
"Just as Rachel Carson launched the modern environmental movement with her Silent Spring, Mary Aiken delivers a deeply disturbing, utterly penetrating, and urgently timed investigation into the perils of the largest unregulated social experiment of our time." (Bob Woodward)
"Drawing on a fascinating and mind-boggling range of research and knowledge, Mary Aiken has written a great, important book that terrifies then consoles by pointing a way forward so that our experience online might not outstrip our common sense. A must-read for this moment in time." (Steven D. Levitt, coauthor of the New York Times best seller Freakonomics)
"Mary Aiken takes us on a fascinating, thought-provoking, and at times scary journey down the rabbit hole to witness how the Internet is changing the human psyche. A must-read for anyone who wants to understand the temptations and tragedies of cyberspace." (John R. Suler, PhD, author of The Psychology of Cyberspace)
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Interesting but sometimes biased
Interesting but uneven book. On the pro side, the author clearly has spent a great deal of time and effort in her field, and has thought deeply about a number of issues. Her passion for her subject area is obvious and it gives the book a sincerity and vitality. Some sections are very interesting, especially discussions of how social interaction on the internet can act to normalize various behavior, the impact of digital life on sex, romance, pornography, and human relationships, and medical websites and interplay with whether we see ourselves as "well." The book is also very thought provoking as it explores how technology connects us in one sense, but leaves of alone in a very real, physical way.
The author's true mission in life is protecting children from digital harm - whether that is protection from online predators or it is protection from the side effects of technology. As a result, at least a third of the book catalogs the state of research on these issues and can, if you do not share the interest as passionately (and especially if you are not a parent), drone on a bit too long. That said, she highlights some studies that appear to be definitive but which are mostly ignored - including that children under the age of 2 should spend as little time as possible (and none, ideally) in front of screens because it can and does negatively impact their mental development, can slow language acquisition, and does not help them develop in any way whatsoever (basically, Baby Einstein and any app or show aimed at the under-2 set is a lie).
On the negative side and what made the book a bit annoying at times is that she comes across as overly idealistic. She makes sweeping statements about what should be done, but completely ignores whether or not those changes are feasible. She blithely discusses curating internet content in a way that ignores freedom of speech and proposes intricate and far reaching regulations for technology developers that seem at the very least legally tenuous. She also sometimes has flimsy evidence to back her claims. I give this somewhat of a pass because, as she rightly points out, controlled studies take years or decades to carry out (especially when you are studying developmental effects on children), and not only can we not afford to wait decades before making educated guesses and putting in place protections, but we also cannot do controlled studies on any technology that we believe is harmful (as you can't knowingly put child subjects in harm's way). That said, she sometimes takes this understandable paucity of hard facts as an invitation to opine without recourse to any evidence where there should be some. She also seems to cherry pick the opinions of others who support her without fully putting forth the opposing view, and she lost some real credibility when she referred to Stephen Hawking as the world's foremost physicist as an intro to his well-publicized (and not unfounded) warnings about technology as an existential threat.
In short, the book is very interesting despite its shortcomings and worth the time.
- S. Yates
This should be required reading
- Theresa Pudenz