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The Big Answer


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The Cyber Effect: An Expert in Cyberpsychology Explains How Technology Is Shaping Our Children, Our Behavior, and Our Values--and What We Can Do About It

a book by Mary Aiken

(our site's book review)

Aiken Raises Troubling Questions about Where the Digital Revolution Is Taking Us

A groundbreaking exploration of how cyberspace is changing the way we think, feel, and behave.

“A must-read for this moment in time.”—Steven D. Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics

"One of the best books of the year"—Nature

Mary Aiken, the world’s leading expert in forensic cyberpsychology, offers a starting point for all future conversations about how the Internet is shaping development and behavior, societal norms and values, children, safety, privacy, and our perception of the world. Drawing on her own research and extensive experience with law enforcement, 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. 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.

Parents can impose necessary consequences, such as moving the computer from the child’s room to the family room, if their child's behavior does not meet certain expectations
Parents can impose necessary consequences, such as moving the computer from the child’s room to the family room, if their child's behavior does not meet certain expectations

“How to guide kids in a hyperconnected world is one of the biggest challenges for today’s parents. Mary Aiken clearly and calmly separates reality from myth. She clearly lays out the issues we really need to be concerned about and calmly instructs us on how to keep our kids safe and healthy in their digital lives.”—Peggy Orenstein, author of the New York Times bestseller Girls & Sex

“[A] fresh voice and a uniquely compelling perspective that draws from the murky, fascinating depths of her criminal case file and her insight as a cyber-psychologist . . . This is Aiken’s cyber cri de coeur as a forensic scientist, and she wants everyone on the case.”—The Washington Post

“Fascinating . . . If you have children, stop what you are doing and pick up a copy of The Cyber Effect: An Expert in Cyberpsychology Explains How Technology Is Shaping Our Children, Our Behavior, and Our Values--and What We Can Do About It”—The Times (UK)

“An incisive tour of sociotechnology and its discontents.”—Nature

“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

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
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

“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

“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.”—Steven D. Levitt

“Having worked with law enforcement groups from INTERPOL and Europol as well as the U.S. government, Aiken knows firsthand how today’s digital tools can be exploited by criminals lurking in the Internet’s Dark Net.”—Newsweek


Aiken Is Not Above Putting Her Foot in Her Mouth

On the minus side, Mary Aiken thinks the European Union or the United Nations should regulate the Internet! This liberal government-is-the-answer social engineering context from an intelligent scientist is laughable and the editor should have caught it—if there even was an editor. 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 unrealistic. (Parents, not government, must choose what their children watch and do or at least monitor it.) She even said that the internet censorship in China did not have to be considered as a negative thing! Apparently, she is willing to put her foot in her mouth. Does she even realize what their censorship is doing to China's potential to ever support human freedom? (As opposed to oppression of dissidents from a brutal authoritarian regime?)

Aiken said that the internet censorship in China did not have to be considered as a negative thing! Apparently, she is willing to insert her foot into her mouth
Aiken said that the internet censorship in China did not have to be considered as a negative thing! Apparently, she is willing to insert her foot into her mouth

Aiken's Groundbreaking Work Inspired the CBS Television Series CSI: Cyber

Mary Aiken, PhD, is the world’s foremost forensic cyberpsychologist. She is the director of the CyberPsychology Research Network and an advisor to Europol, and has conducted research and training workshops with multiple global agencies, from INTERPOL to the FBI and the White House. Her research interests include cybersecurity, organized cybercrime, cyberstalking, technology-facilitated human trafficking, and the rights of the child online. She is a member of the advisory board of the Hague Justice Portal, a foundation for international peace, justice, and security. Her groundbreaking work inspired the CBS television series CSI: Cyber. She is based in Ireland.

The Internet has wonderful as well as terrible potentials—as does parenting, so keep kids safe and informed
The Internet has wonderful as well as terrible potentials—as does parenting, so keep kids safe and informed

Aiken, looking at the scary rate of change in technology and human relationships and socialization, warns us that "given what I’ve seen already, particularly the new norms that are rapidly being created due to an accelerated form of socialization that I call cyber-socialization, I don’t think we should sit around waiting for answers. . . . the one thing I have observed over and over again is that human behavior is often amplified and accelerated online by what I believe to be an almost predictable mathematical multiplier, the cyber effect."


Human Behavior Is Often Amplified Online by the Cyber Effect

Aiken sees increased altruism online, exemplified by the extraordinary growth of nonprofit crowdfunding online. She has seen that people can be more trusting of others they encounter online, and can disclose information more quickly—even when it is not safe. Of course, the flip side of that altruism/trust coin is when online disinhibition causes bullying, trolling, cyberstalking, use of the web to help predators find and groom victims, and malware like ransomware.

Like in CSI: Cyber, forensic cyberpsychology focuses on the cyberbehavioral evidence of a crime scene, or, the cyber footprint as it were. Since pretty much everything we do online generates some kind of "digital exhaust, digital dust, and/or digital prints," this digital evidence can help law enforcement investigate criminal behavior, whether the crimes take place in cyberspace, across the world, or on your street.

The author tells us that "My work involves the scientific investigation of behavior online—from the prediction of developing behavior, such as cyber juvenile delinquency (hacking), to profiling typologies for evolutions of criminal behavior (cyberstalking). I explore machine intelligence solutions to big-data problems (such as technology-facilitated human trafficking) and intelligence amplification (I.A.) solutions to child-related online sex offending. . . . the new freedoms allowed online are heady, thrilling, and enticing to billions of people. The concept of absolute freedom is central to the ideology of the Internet. But can this freedom corrupt? And can absolute freedom corrupt absolutely? More freedom for the individual means less control for society."


Parent-Child Time Is Getting Replaced by Parent-Tech Time and Child-Tech Time

"The number of minutes per day that you spend checking your phone and scrolling through social media posts is not insignificant. . . . these minutes indicate how a person is living—what they do and don’t do. . . . In the home, these minutes are not spent doing other things—reading a book to a child, playing with a toddler on the floor, chatting with your family at the dinner table, talking with your partner before bed."

As technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down
As technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down

Why do children have to be constantly entertained? Aiken wonders, while discussing the dangers of parents handing tablet computers to their toddlers to shut them up for a few blessed moments of peace. This is not good parenting. Once we are used to shuffling our little ones off to cyberville, it becomes an all too convenient and free babysitter taking the place of real human interaction with nannies, parents, babysitters, or relatives. There will soon be robotic babysitters and this is a counterfeit and poor replacement of the real nurturing that young humans need from parents or other good substitutes. After all, JFK told us that "Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future."

There will soon be robotic babysitters and this is a counterfeit and poor replacement of the real nurturing that young humans need from parents or other good substitutes
There will soon be robotic babysitters and this is a counterfeit and poor replacement of the real nurturing that young humans need from parents or other good substitutes


Technology has redefined our perceptions of intimacy and solitude—we must avoid the perils of embracing such pseudo-techno relationships in place of lasting emotional connections
Technology has redefined our perceptions of intimacy and solitude—we must avoid the perils of embracing such pseudo-techno relationships in place of lasting emotional connections

Aiken reminds us that sometimes our excitement about technology has prevented us from seeing the bigger picture. We must avoid the perils of embracing such pseudo-techno relationships in place of lasting emotional connections—i.e., we must not settle for connections when a healthy emotional life requires bonds. See Why Do We Need Communities? and Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?.

Depression rate in the U.S. in 2011
Depression rate in the U.S. in 2011


Facebook encourages false-self actualization, not real self-actualization; and connections, not bonds
Facebook encourages false-self actualization, not real self-actualization; and connections, not bonds

We'll Have to Be Emotionally Smarter Than Our Technology

"Fame is an aspiration that narcissists fantasize about achieving; our results suggest that the documented historical increase in narcissistic personality in emerging adults begins in the preadolescent years with a desire for fame. A potential synergy exists between observing the fame-oriented content of TV shows and enacting the value of fame by participating in posting online videos. . . . So, are we raising a nation of narcissists? . . . Is it inevitable that 'fame' will continue to impress even the youngest of children as being terribly important, particularly if their parents are posting pictures and videos themselves? Why aren’t parents paying attention to the power of the screen? Can technology really turn a child into a narcissist?" . . . [Dr. Karyl McBride, an expert on narcissism, responds:] "I do think we live in a very narcissistic culture today, with an ‘all about me’ mentality. Narcissism is the inability to tune in emotionally to other people. This is the lack of empathy, and what causes great damage in relationships. Can technology as in texting, email, Facebook, etc. feed into the lack of emotional connect? I think so. But if children are treated with empathy and taught empathic response and caring about other people, it doesn’t have to be either/or. We just have to be emotionally smarter than our technology." Source: Are We Raising a Nation of Narcissists?, Peg Streep, Psychology Today)

Not only are we not readers or writers, but we have become television and internet zombies
Not only are we not readers or writers, but we have become television and internet zombies

The above article was written in 2012. Facebook began in 2004. In only eight years, we are hearing experts talk about all this social networking technology altering the psychology of our children very negatively. The American Psychiatric Association has listed the classification narcissistic personality disorder in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since 1968, drawing on the historical concept of megalomania. Narcissists tend to demonstrate a lack of interest in warm and caring interpersonal relationships. Christopher Lasch says that in our narcissistic culture, any real sense of community is undermined—or even destroyed—to be replaced by virtual equivalents that strive, unsuccessfully, to synthesize a sense of community. And looking at the traits and symptoms of narcissism, one is irresistibly reminded of Donald Trump. He is a classic example of narcissism, as thousands have remarked upon. So the question then becomes, do we wish to raise a whole generation of such people? The world obviously would fail to thrive. But would it even survive?

Donald Trump—narcissist-in-chief
Donald Trump—narcissist-in-chief

Aiken Offers a Fascinating and Chilling Look at a Future We Can Still Do Something About

"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: An Expert in Cyberpsychology Explains How Technology Is Shaping Our Children, Our Behavior, and Our Values--and What We Can Do About It 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: An Expert in Cyberpsychology Explains How Technology Is Shaping Our Children, Our Behavior, and Our Values--and What We Can Do About It will upend your assumptions about your online life and forever change the way you think about the technology you, your friends, and family use." (Source: The Cyber Effect : A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online)

“Aiken, a self-described forensic cyberpsychologist, shows in compelling detail how the online world bleeds into people’s daily lives in ways that occasionally involve actual bloodshed. . . . [Her] stories are stirring enough to stand alone: she covers the near-normalized phenomenon of online dating, the addictive and fatal extremes of gaming, and even murders that are motivated by aspirations of Internet fame. Some analysis focuses on how children respond to the digitized world, information that is especially useful to parents hoping to protect their children from developing bad habits or ending up in danger. . . . The relevance of Aiken’s careful discussion is undeniable.”—Publishers Weekly

Our culture, civility, expectations, safety, and so much more are changing before our eyes and we are accepting it all so easily, questioning far too little and allowing a handful of companies to guide our online lives almost like a ouija board so that our real lives have been turned upside down before we even realize it. We're being blindsided and covertly adjusted by marketers and criminals. Things are not what they seem, including the strangers we "friend," the cyber-romances we embark upon, and the privacy and security we wrongly believe we enjoy on the Internet. Aiken's book lays it out for us, often insightfully and entertainingly, other times naively, but always sincerely.

TV has become the monster that sucks our brains from our skulls as it dumbs us down and teaches us to be loyal consumers of mostly unhealthy products we do not need
TV has become the monster that sucks our brains from our skulls as it dumbs us down and teaches us to be loyal consumers of mostly unhealthy products we do not need

Other "Effects of Media and Internet" Books