Cyberpsychology is the study of human behaviour when it comes in touch with emerging technologies. What are emerging technologies? Everything from Internet to virtual reality to artificial intelligence.
It’s a study about how our behaviour changes in the online world. Why people behave the way they do on Internet, social media. What factors affect our drives and urges online? Why people behave differently when they are in the cybersphere? Cyberpsychology aims to answer all of these.
Internet set to explode
By 2020, the world will have nearly 4.1 billion Internet users. It means a record number of people are taking/will take to Internet to solve problems, make money, interact with others, and for entertainment. With this magnitude of interaction, cyberpsychology will play a key role in understanding behaviours and the actions of people in the ‘cybersphere’. An average Internet user is set to consume 44.1 GB traffic bandwidth per month, by 2020.
The increase in consumption will lead to more confrontations and behavioural changes and cyberpsychologists will be at the forefront in tackling these issues. The influence of instant messaging apps on relationships is already evident and there’s a considerable change in our behaviours and attitudes vis-à-vis relationships.
Cyberpsychology helps understanding addiction
People get addicted to the Internet because of the sense of instant gratification it offers. And, it makes a lot of sense. You need not wait a couple of days to send a message across to someone or fly to another country to speak to someone. The Internet has blurred borders, reduced time taken to perform various tasks — in essence, gives instant gratification to whatever we choose to do. You need a computer? It’s just a click or a phone call away. Want to ride a taxi? It’s available in a click of a button.
And, this positive reinforcement makes us do it again and in some cases, leads to addiction. Cyberpsychologists, given their position to understand how technology affects offline and online behaviour, are best placed to tackle and understand these issues.
Cyberbullying and trolling
Everything is amplified in the cybersphere. And, it is not necessarily a good thing. Well-known cyberpsychologist Mary Aiken said she is worried about the amplifying effect of technology. She describes, “When technology interfaces with a base human disposition, the result tends to amplified and escalated.”
When such behaviour manifests in ways that are anti-social, like cyberstalking and cyberbullying and trolling, it becomes ugly. The expertise of cyberpsychologists, who study the interstices of psychology and technology, will come as great help in tackling the menace. These behaviours are often the manifestation of a relatively dormant disposition and get amplified when they come in touch with technology.
Jobs, unemployment and automation
Our burgeoning population and need to feed people has/will have a direct impact on job opportunities and the kind of jobs on offer. For instance, many of the factory line jobs have been taken over by robots. And, it’s only going to increase. Automation and robots will continue to eat up jobs that are mechanical and repetitive.
Meanwhile, new jobs, some even unheard of in the yesteryears, have emerged thanks to technology. How many of us would’ve heard about social media managers or UX designers or data scientists, or even cyberpsychologists some years back?
Cyberpsychology can help identify the gaps, how technology can supplement human effort and help in mitigating the bad effects of automation and skilling people for new-age jobs.
Cyberpsychology helps in parenting
Children are exposed to different kinds of information, including those inappropriate for their age. The frequency, intensity and duration of information being bombarded at them are both helpful and detrimental for their growth — a double-edged sword, so to speak.
Smartphones, social media, Internet, instant messaging are some of the worrying areas for parents. However, with the right kind of parenting and guidance, these can be made into immensely useful tools. Cyberpsychology can also help parents to tackling cyberbullying, trolling faced by children. It, therefore, becomes imperative for parents understand the basics of cyberpsychology.
BIG DATA – the future?
We keep hearing of Big Data all the time? What is it? Big Data refers to large datasets that can be used to find a pattern and trends related to human behaviour and interactions. For example, digital epidemiology — the branch that uses data extracted from digital interactions to assess the health conditions of a particular set of population — is fast gaining ground.
Cyberpsychologists play a key role in finding patterns and trends using Big Data. They act as a bridge between the technical team and policymakers, helping understand the raw data and drawing inferences from patterns.
Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality and AI are here and have already made their mark in the fields of entertainment, healthcare and manufacturing. Cyberpsychologists are employed in creating VR environments, understanding human behaviour in such an environment. For example, there are studies that show that VR can help paraplegic patients regain control. AI is being used in diagnosing diseases. There are studies that have contended that AI has achieved near-human efficiency in detecting cancer and Alzheimer’s.
Cyberpsychologists are persons with multiple skillsets that span across fields — of technology, psychology, sociology and neuroscience. In the coming years, cyberpsychologists will be in great demand as Internet and technology continue to proliferate and reaches the masses.
What’s your take on the prospects of cyberpsychology? Fire them in as comments below.