We are not wired for modern life

Despite what some would say, most people, in the West at least, but increasingly everywhere in the world, are living a better quality of life than Aristocracy did less than a hundred years ago. For all the talk of the 1%, most people born today are in the top 1% of everybody who has ever lived in human history.

I’ve always been fascinated how we can have so many material comforts, and so many deadly problems our ancestors faced have been eradicated, yet we still have the capacity to be miserable. There is a strong negative correlation between mental health issues and increases in comfort, especially rates of suicide in men and self harm in women. As life objectively gets better, paradoxically many of us become less happy. In fact many believe we are currently in the midst of a mental health crisis. There is a reason why this bit from Louis CK went viral, because it’s true:

One of the reasons is relativity, we compare ourselves to others, rather than appreciate how much worse things could be. However, the bigger problem as I see it (or my pet fascination at least) is that we are built for adversity and for living in groups, but we are experiencing much less of both. Our ancestors who survived long enough to reproduce were the ones who had it in them the ability to thrive when times got tough. We have evolved from the industrious, the aggressive, the survivors and the community focussed. When times are relatively easy, that part of our DNA does not just switch off. It takes thousands and thousands of years for us to evolve to changing circumstances, and we currently live in a time when everything is changing more rapidly than ever before.Continue Reading

Five books about how the Internet is changing us

If I were to pinpoint a specific theme for this blog, and generally what fascinates me, it is how the Internet is changing us, and perhaps making us psychologically weaker. We are only really starting to understand the effect the Internet is having on us, and by now it is perhaps too late. I recently wrote a blog with five of my favourite psychology books, today I wanted to share five books that I think really helps us understand the effect the Internet has on us. They are essentially tech books, but in a lot of ways they are just as much about human nature as the ones in my previous list.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

No book has ever changed my online behaviour more than So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, it is horrifying and would otherwise be a very difficult read were it not for the fact that Ronson is both very empathetic and very funny. The book is all about how Twitter encourages mob mentality and documents a number of cases where normal people have had their lives ruined for relatively minor transgressions on social media.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ll know all about how every day there is a new thing everybody has become outraged about on social media. It is a constant occurrence, one which thankfully I think the world is starting to realise is unhealthy for society. The ‘pile ons’ are more frequent but less devastating these days (in part because everyone moves onto the next one sooner).

Nethertheless, I would be lying if I didn’t say that this book made me incredibly gunshy about posting anything remotely controversial online, as well as making me often stop myself before joining a Twitter ‘pile on’. Like all Ronson’s work it is utterly brilliant and a must read.Continue Reading

How the Internet divides us

225px-Internet_argumentHave you ever been on holiday and, despite traveling thousands of miles, you meet some people who are also from your town? You end up getting along really well and spend the majority of the holiday with them. It might be another couple who you go to restaurants with, a group of likeminded lads or lasses you go to the clubs with or indeed could be the start of a holiday romance. You go all that way to another part of the world, to soak up the culture, meet new people and get away from the same old routine, only to spend the entire time with somebody you could have met in your local pub.

That is what the Internet has become.

The Internet is your 18-30 holiday in Malaga.

The great promise of the Internet is that it would bring us all together, that it would do away with all the things that divide us and expose us to new ways of thinking. I remember in the very early days of the popularisation of the world wide web in the late 1990s and how exciting it was to be talking to someone from the other side of the world on AOL. In the early days it was such a novelty to speak to someone and ask them questions knowing that their life was completely different to yours. The Internet promised an end to tribalism and to bring us all together.Continue Reading

A Retweet is not a character reference

bury-heads-australia-v3Without doubt my biggest personal gripe with the the combination of short attention spans, social media consumption and increasingly polarised politics, is what I call the preemptive ad hominem attack (I’m working on a catchier name).

This describes the inevitable moment when you share an article, or a comment, or a poll, or a statistic, or some other nugget of information, and somebody will attack the source before even contemplating the information being shared.

So if I share an article from the Daily Mail or Fox News, regardless of the content, somebody left-leaning will express how they disagree with whatever it is on principle that it came from the Daily Mail. Or perhaps I retweet a Guardian or New York Times article, and get the mirror response from somebody with more conservative viewpoints. The content gets dismissed before it is even consumed.Continue Reading

The Online Disinhibition Effect

annni-anonymous_Throughout this blog we will explore a number of explanations of why customers can become so disruptive. My primary focus will be on the online sphere. While there is no doubt that face-to-face customers can be toxic too, I’m inclined to think what makes a customer a bad customer is greatly accelerated online.

Just because a customer is rude online, doesn’t actually mean they are assholes in real life. I’m sure all of us, if we are honest, can point to instances where we have behaved less than honourably online. Whether it was being rude to tech support, baiting others in forums or proclaiming something sucks in the comments of an article.

There is a very compelling explanation by John Suler about why we abandon so many rules of polite society when we are online, which is called the online disinhibition effect. He identifies six reasons why we treat online discourse differently to real life:Continue Reading