How is the internet changing our behaviour?

If ever there was a book that should be read by all parents or about to be parents of young children, The Cyber Effect by Dr Mary Aiken, is it. If ever there was a book that should be thoroughly digested by lawmakers and enforcers, this is it. At times frightening, at others shocking yet, with rays of hope and wisdom spread throughout.

That this lady is qualified there can be no doubt, perhaps the most qualified on the planet on the subject of how all our daily lives are being affected by modern technology. As I have often ventured, “The internet can be your best friend or your worst enemy”.

Stories of a youth, hands outstretched on the keyboard while playing a game but apparently asleep while other played on around him (he was dead); another of two 12 year old girls following a scenario on a horror story site and then luring a “friend” on a camping weekend and stabbing her 19 times; a child killing his mother because he was dragged off the internet, all ring true because, just hours after I read the latter, in the latest Sydney news a young man stabbed his father to death for exactly the same thing.


I started reading this expecting much university-style writing and viewpoint but, the opening chapter goes into how she went out on a dawn raid with the L.A.P.D. The anecdotes in this book are gripping and fascinating and will leave you shaking your head repeatedly. As one quote in the book says, “Don’t use a digital babysitter”. Dr Aiken is the world’s leading expert in forensic cyberpsychology.

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One thing I found absorbing was the negative effect you, focused on your mobile phone, can have on your children’s personality. In short, using your mobile while looking after your child is a no-no, need I remind people of the lady whose child drowned in Adelaide while she was on the phone? Constant face to face contact for the first couple of years is absolutely critical to their long-term development.

Pornography, in particular, is her “elephant in the room”. In one survey, 5% of 9-10-year-olds watched porn and the vast majority were unlikely to confide in their parents and, even more scarily, 15% of parents weren’t even worried. Her efforts to make providers of such things liable for consequences are legendary yet, the country with the broadest history of pornography is the one that really doesn’t want any legislation, i.e. America, whereas European countries are greatly concerned and taking significant steps.

Then there’s the rise in narcissism; let’s face it, the internet was custom built for such personalities and that fact has been borne out in multiple surveys. Here’s a mini-inventory borrowed from the book to help you spot them:

  • Do they always look amazing in their photos?
  • Are they in almost all their photos?
  • Are they in the centre of group photos?
  • Do they post or change their profile constantlyWhen they post an update, is it always about themselves?

Mary deals informatively with the difference between “I” and “me”.

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Bullying is another well known downside of the internet and the one phrase that won’t leave me is that “the more friends you have, the less likely someone will intervene.”  The fact that the media put children V. children violence on the news doesn’t help either, something I’d always suspected.

Then there’s cyber infidelity and virtual girlfriends and a whole raft of things that are happening, the most amazing of which is the number of Japanese who are single and/or virgins because of video games like LovePlus. Try 25% of Japanese women over 30! I guess they’ll breed themselves out of existence.

Another fascinating fact seemingly unrelated is “why air temperature in some large grocery chains is often uncomfortably chilly and why distractingly loud music plays in clothing stores” – because both promote impulsive shopping!

Meanwhile, in the western world, the increase in sexting is disturbing, particularly in view of the fact that every study has determined that it is a bad idea.  It’s all to do with teens exploring the world beyond and being unaware (or unconcerned) about the consequences, something to do with the risky-shift phenomenon.

There are so many other aspects covered in this fascinating read, I can but implore you again to pick it up and delve into the many life-affecting topics between its covers. I was also charmed at the end because she finished the book in a cliff top hotel in Ardmore (Ireland) with a Michelin rated restaurant that we ate at only recently.

The Cyber Effect by Dr Mary Aiken (published by Hachette Australia) is available now from Dymocks. Click here to learn more.