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A renowned cyberpsychologist (no, I hadn’t heard of that job title either) discusses the impact of the cyberworld which we are all living in, our 24/7 connection to the internet, and the effect that it is having on a generation that are growing up with the internet as a huge part of their lives.

Admittedly, the subtitle of this book, A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist explains how human behaviour changes online – led me to expect something different. I thought it was going to be more about how perfectly decent and reasonable people often descend into bullying, unkind, trolling behaviour when hiding behind the anonymity of their keyboard. There is a chapter that deals with this, but generally speaking the book is more generalised, but still an interesting subject to discuss.

I wanted to read it because I do think this is an important and fascinating subject. Because I find it interesting and upsetting to walk into a restaurant and see a couple eating at the same table, but not really together because both of them have their eyes glued to their phones. Because it’s not unusual to see a group of young friends walking together, each looking at their own smartphone screens. Because there is now a whole wealth of knowledge at people’s fingertips, yet a lot of it is false or biased.

Unfortunately I also found this book to be incredibly biased. Yes, technology is isolating for some people, but there is so much good about it too. Dr Aiken says in the introduction that she wants to keep the book fairly science-light, which she does. This makes it easier to read in many respects, but also means that a lot of what she says comes over as purely her opinion with very little if anything to back it up. There’s a lot of “I would guess…” “It is my belief that…” “I believe…” etc. She does state a couple of times that there are a lot of positives about the internet, but doesn’t really acknowledge what they are, and focusses heavily on the negative.

Some of the subjects raised are vitally important – the aforementioned effect of bullying online, and how it is affecting mainly young people. There was one chapter about the effects of screens at close range to a child’s face and the effect it can have on that child’s vision. Cyberchondria – i.e., the obsessive checking of physical symptoms online and being convinced that you have the most serious disease imaginable. But none of these are new phenomenons. I remember the debates about whether it was right or just lazy to stick a child in front of the tv for very long. Bullying is unfortunately something that has been around as long as humans have, and hypochondria is a long recognised problem for many people – sure the internet has given people a new way to do all of these things, but it hasn’t caused the problems in the first place.

Although there is little anecdotal evidence to support what Dr Aiken says, she does occasionally come up with examples of what she is trying to say – usually tragic, anomalous stories (let’s face it, you can find one story to support almost anything you believe if you look hard enough).

I will say that Dr Aiken has an engaging and readable style and had the book been more balanced I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more. As it was, it comes across as more of a lost opportunity than anything else. An important subject, but a more open-minded discussion would have been nice.

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For anyone not familiar with Mark Kermode’s work, he is the Chief Film Critic for The Observer newspaper, he presents The Culture Show on BBC2, and he is part of ‘Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review’ programme on BBC Radio 5 live.  In this book, he talks about his role as film critic, and more specifically, the role of a film critic in today’s world, where the internet allows pretty much everyone to be a critic about pretty much anything.  And you don’t need to have any specialist knowledge or qualifications to be an internet critic.  (I’m well aware that as a blogger, I’m one of these people that he talks about – I’m not particularly qualified to write about books or movies or theatre, but I do anyway, although I don’t claim to offer anything other than my own opinion, for whatever that’s worth.) So with the growth of blogging, tweeting etc., the role of progressional film critic has come under some threat.

Kermode eloquently  makes the case for the necessity of professional film critics in such a world – he certainly convinced me, although to be fair, I agreed with his point of view in the first place.  He also discusses how advertisement posters for films have now started using quotes from Twitter users as endorsements, and points out the obvious problems with this.  For all this though, Kermode does seem to want to embrace the internet and the rise of online bloggers, is also quick to point out the advantages of it – both to himself and to others.

The book is very well written and engaging, and often very amusing too.  Each chapter is about a specific point relating to the main theme, but Kermode often goes off at tangents, and uses lots of anecdotes to illustrate what he’s saying – at the end of the chapter, everything ties up nicely.

Overall, if you like Mark Kermode’s film reviews, you will like this book.  If you don’t know anything about Mark Kermode or his film reviews, there’s a strong chance you will like this book.  I don’t think you even need to be particularly cineliterate to enjoy it –  my basic knowledge of any film extends as far as whether or not I enjoyed it.  I started reading the book on a long flight, and usually when I’m flying, I end up listening to music, watching a film, or trying to sleep.  However, I found myself not wanting to do any of those things, and instead just wanting to keep reading.  So for me, this was definitely a winner, and I would recommend it.

 

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These days, everyone is trying to tell us something, and as a result, we have trained ourselves to filter out the things that don’t interest us (click onto another website, fast forward through the adverts, change the channel).  Dave Gorman casts his witty eye over the dross and nonsense that comes to us via the internet and certain news media, and asks what’s really going on?  And why do we accept so much junk as just a normal part of life?

As ever, Gorman is entertaining and amusing, and this is a really easy book to read (I read it in one day, on a long flight).  But as well as all the humour – and yes, I laughed out loud several times – he does make some serious points. There are 40 chapters, so far too many to describe, but he talks about why a particular newspaper (it’s the Daily Mail, surprise surprise) doesn’t seem to know what ‘matching’ means in it’s numerous articles about couples, or parents and children wearing matching outfits; why television hosts always ask the same questions; why does the internet think Julia Roberts is Jesus? and so on.  He also looks at some of the seedier parts of the internet, such as mass spamming on Twitter, people being paid to advertise on Twitter (but surreptitiously, so that others are not supposed to realise that they’re advertising) etc.

Most of the chapters are a few pages long – a few are just one page – so it’s an easy, quick read, which will not only have you laughing, but also nodding along in agreement.  Definitely recommended.

(Dave Gorman’s website can be found here.)

 

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