BBC Radio 4: Digital Human (Series 6:2014: Episode 1: Risk) #DigiHuman


Episode 1 Description

Our brains are still running security software designed to protect us against lions, tigers and bears and we haven’t run an update for about 200,000 years. Aleks Krotoski explores how well it works when faced with the risks of the digital world.

According David Ropeik author and risk communication expert at Harvard University the modern technological world presents our risk perception abilities with much more complex and abstract problems than it was ever designed to cope with. For him we feel risk rather calculate it so whether its cyber-terrorism or climate change if the risk doesn’t immediately push our risk buttons we simply don’t know how to react with the risk of getting risk wrong.

And no-where can the risks seem more abstract than in the digital world. Aleks explores how we respond to the dangers that lurk there through a range of stories. We spend time being driven round the Channel island of Jersey in the company of Toni an 18 year old who gives lifts to people she’s only ever met through Facebook, we’ll hear how a professional online poker player uses the minimal information she can glean about other players to know when to bet big and Aleks will also discover how even a walk in the park can put our technology and the private information we keep there in jeopardy.

My Notes:

  • Crossing the road, or downloading a file? What is riskier?
  • We’re still in prehistoric ‘thinking mode’ in relation to risk, running the same ‘programme’ for every risk. How do we update for modern risks?
  • Our brain is a survival machine, whose job is to get safely to bed at night, not particularly to win Nobel Peace Prizes.
  • Hearing about ‘Jersey Lifts’ – posting ‘to the wide world’, but uses brain thinking we have used for years, including young people’s (closed) connection networks (and also the geographical nature of the island, and the importance of ‘trust’ as a risk-perception factor.
  • To measure – we trust someone in common, otherwise we trust on what they say/we have seen them do, based on ‘social capital’.
  • Taking a calculated risk, are the odds in favour or not? Risk = the chance/probability that something ‘bad’ could happen (numbers).
  • It’s not really about numbers at all.. it’s more subjective than that.
  • If we believe the popular press, the ‘spectre’ is not hovering around in the physical shadows now, it’s behind the screen. Anything that affects kids attracts a lot of attention – so risks online get played up (instinctive, excessive, emotional fear) way beyond that.
  • Sonya Livingstone – the internet is not something that ‘does things’ to your children irrespective of who they are. Not using the internet is something like not crossing the road because child might get run over (it happens but it’s incredibly useful). Do we need education or regulation?
  • Why do we think human beings are corrupt? Why is that amplified online? Online we’re having to work it out, and as the spaces changed, we’re having to adjust.
  • Not taking a risk, but taking a gamble? Online gambling – lose all those ‘tells’ that happen offline, trying to work the psychology of interaction/symbolism/previous play.
  • Jersey Lifts – are part of a real-life network with authenticated users.
  • What are the new risks or conceptually different? We need a slower, more intellectual, more abstract response to risk? If a risk “doesn’t happen to me” – it’s less threatening.
  • OCD/CFSyndrome – sees many risks online, so wipes hard-drive 3 x week – those risks are there – but not to the extent seen.
  • We know our privacy is being overlooked, but by whom, and what are the potential results? Drone (nearby) can see into a number of people’s accounts – the risks are to our data, rather than to our physical being (as Jersey Lifts does). – being used for interrogation.
  • If there’s no emotional attachment to the risk, we tend to ignore them. .. do we make risk-perception gaps different (e.g. after 9/11, more died on the roads than in planes).
  • How do we manage risk (rather than whether to engage with it or not)? Sonya Livingstone – if we become too risk averse – lose chance to meet those who share their interests, or to become resilient online. Over the last 100 years we’ve been building regulations, etc. in the outside spaces – but we’ve not been doing that online.
  • Build risk-management policies that build in emotional behaviours.
  • Jersey Lifts – not just random collection – does check out “unknowns” before offering/accepting a lift. Sonya – each child 2-300 friends, and each of those has many more connections = is that risk too high?

Worth seeing – – for some practical advice on children online, as endorsed by Professor Sonya Livingstone.