Having officially started my academic journey into CyberPsychology, it seems a good time to clarify what this discipline within Psychology involves. The British Psychology Society defines CyberPsychology as: ‘a scientific inter-disciplinary domain that focuses on the psychological phenomena which emerge as a result of the human interaction with digital technology, particularly the Internet’ (BPS, 2019)
I have spoken a lot in the last 9 months (to anyone who happens to be within earshot of me) about my deep fascination with CyberPsychology. Anecdotally, the initial misconception is that it falls within the realm of Cybersecurity – i.e. how to keep your data safe and secure online. Although there are a number of elements of psychology linked to cybersecurity, CyberPsychology differs in many ways. If you compared the cyber-world directly to the real-world, cybersecurity is like having the right mechanisms in place to keep your house and physical valuables as safe as possible from those who want to rob or exploit you. If you have particularly valuable items you want to keep safe, you hire external expertise to help set up the correct security measures to do so.
Like any real-world psychological services and experts, Cyber Psychologists work across a broader range of cyber-related areas including (but not limited to) forensics, mental health, addictions, academics, etc., their work often crossing over, connecting and integrating the online and offline worlds. Although this field of psychology has been a core focus for some psychologists for many, many decades, it has only started to gather momentum and become more mainstream in the last few years. In late 2018 the British Psychology Society recognised the need to set up a CyberPsychology section, officially recognising this as an important part of our ‘being’ as humans.
As a profession, we still have a long way to go in researching and understanding many aspects of how we behave online and how this affects us, those around us and our society in general – both online and offline. One key to bridging this broad gap in our knowledge is in broadcasting the insights we gain as CyberPsychologists to a much wider audience, including how technology is constantly shifting and how we, as humans, act and interact with ourselves, with each other and with the steady stream of innovations that will be our future norm. Another key is encouraging and exciting a greater number of tomorrow’s psychologists to navigate, explore and discover this world with us.
Future generations will look back on us and wonder how on earth we could have been so naive and antiquated in our view of cyber and the psychology that surrounds it. However, for me, right now, this journey is (like the Star Trek TV heroes of my youth) the ultimate cyber-space adventure ‘to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilization, to boldly go where no man has gone before’ (a bit cheesy I know, but couldn’t resist it!)