The Cyber Effect review

Mary Aiken works in the fascinating field of Cyberpsychology. Her career spans roles at the prestigious University College Dublin, the Cyberpsychology Research Network and Europol’s Cybercrime Center. She has also trained at the White House, the FBI and Interpol.

She has recently published a book called The Cyber Effect, which looks into the ways human behavior changes when people go online. This is a fairly harrowing read because the book takes an unflinching look at some of the most unsavoury corners of the internet. At the same time, it’s enlightening, sensible and suggests practical steps to operating in the brave new online world. The book devotes a good chunk of chapters to helping children navigate the Internet: since this blog focuses on customer feedback and more widely, business texts, we won’t discuss that in the below points.

With most of us working online we think we are fairly savvy ‘digital natives’ these days but Aiken draws our attention to how easily our behavior changes when we are not face-to-face with people in the real world. I think the book is very instructive for those of us working in the customer engagement and feedback space…

The Cyber Effect review: Top 5 takeaways

  • You can think of the internet as the biggest mass human migration in history. From an unoccupied land 40 years ago, the internet will be populated by 5 billion people by 2020. This was a fundamental takeaway from the book for me, and something I admit I hadn’t pondered on as deeply as I should have done. Yes, there are huge beneficial and commercial opportunities online. Yes, like all of society there is a dark and criminal side. However, the fact is that the vast majority of the population of the world is suddenly interacting in a whole new, unregulated space. The psychological aspects of this, (beyond the classic data/social media considerations) had not entirely struck me until I read this book.
  • Human behavior is amplified and accelerated online. Aiken argues that, quite simply, people act differently when they are interacting with technology. Escalation can happen very easily, this is when problem behaviors become bigger online. Aggression, altruism, trust, and many more, are all more extreme when we use technology as humans. I think this poses interesting questions about how CX leaders gather and review their feedback data. If you’re gathering data about a face-to-face experience using an online medium, what distortions might be at play and how do you cater for these?
  • Being online can cause a distortion of the passage of time. Aiken makes the point that, as humans, we have learned to keep track of time in the real-world very well. But when we go online, we are instantly ‘somewhere else’, and in this new place we don’t have the physical bearings from which to orient ourselves. This phenomenon manifests itself in things like being so immersed in online content that hours go by and it feels like minutes, through to all those times where you pick up your phone mindlessly to check your email, forgetting that you only did it 2 minutes ago. Aiken encourages us to realize that online is a different place. We might be sitting on our sofa but the conditions and strictures that surround us have actually completely changed.
  • Looking-glass theory.The looking-glass theory, or the looking-glass self, is a psychological concept which describes how people often base their sense of self on how they believe others see them. Aiken argues that social media brings with it the concept of a cyber ‘self’; a somewhat different self than we exhibit in the face-to-face world. If this is true, then again as CX professionals and business owners and managers seeking customer feedback, we must ask ourselves which customer ‘self’ is feeding back to us. Is it the person who called us this morning or who walked into the store? Or is it the person who unleashed a huge rant on their Facebook page about a consumer brand the night before?
  • With the veil of anonymity it’s much easier for customers to exhibit extreme behavior. This is especially true in complaints. Would Sons of Maxwell have actually walked into an airport terminal and sung “United Breaks Guitars” in real life? Would the famous “Dear Cretins” NTL letter have ever seen the light of day if its author had had to say it to the face of an executive from the company? Whilst the above examples are humorous, the normalizing effect of the internet means that things can turn nasty very quickly. It’s important to be ready for trolls and snippy customers and help support your team through any of these customer behaviors.

laptop feedback

The Cyber Effect review: Top 5 quotes

  • “…our instincts were trained and honed for the real world, and in the absence of real-world cues and other subtle pieces of information – facial expressions, body language, physical spaces – we aren’t able to make fully informed decisions.”
  • “Nastiness online is becoming an accepted reality… the majority of adult social media users said they ‘have seen people being mean and cruel to others on social network sites,’ according to a report form the Pew Research Center… The conditions of the cyber environment can make cruelty a competitive sport – and posts escalate from barbs to sadism very quickly.
  • “About 40% of daily speech is normally taken up with self-disclosure – telling others how we feel or what we think about something – but when we go online the amount of self-disclosure doubles to 80%.”
  • “A 2015 study found that Americans check their phones a total of 8 billion times a day. As mentioned in the prologue, a study shows that an average adult with a mobile phone connected to the Internet checked his or her phone more than two hundred times a day. That’s about every five minutes. In the evening it escalates.”
  • “The face-to-face feedback and mirroring that were once catalysts in identity formation… have migrated to a complex, multi-faceted cyber experience.”

So, a thought-provoking and yet scary book. I very occasionally found it a tiny bit one-sided but it poses useful questions for those of us sourcing feedback and input in a technology-filled world. – Lindsay

Where next?

Enjoy this The Cyber Effect review? We’re always reading interesting business books, featuring stories, how-too and and biographies. Why not read another of of our business book reviews here: