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The emotional reality of the digital world

Picture yourself walking into a party. You come upon a conversation, where someone is describing something that happened to them last week.

“We were waiting in the lobby and realised we didn't have enough players”

“So this guy ends up inviting my ex-girlfriend. It was so awkward when we started playing, we barely said two words to each other.”

“Her new boyfriend texted me afterwards as well, so embarrassing".

Where do you think the following event occurred?

I attended a housewarming party recently. I arrived mid conversation, the one above, and felt empathy for my friend. I asked him how he couldn't have known she was coming, as it must take time for her to get to wherever they were playing their sport. 

At this point, my friend laughed and told me they were playing counter-strike. For those not in the know, counter-strike is an online tactical first-person shooter video game. The area where players “gather” to wait for their game is called the lobby. My friend didn't realise his ex had been invited until they started playing online together. 

This occurred to me as a great example of how blurred the lines are between our digital and physical realities. The consequences of this digital event were arguably no different than if they had occurred in real life, and acted as a reminder to me of the tangible effects that digital interactions can have on our emotions, relationships, and social standing.  The emotional responses and social implications were as if the two had met, in a lobby, waiting to play squash. Without the prior context, it never occurred to me that this event didn't happen in person. 

We need to keep this in mind when we are talking about cybersecurity. Being swindled, tricked or abused in person, on the phone or through online methods results in equivalent social and emotional consequences. Our identities now exist in the digital world and events there reverberate and bleed into our physical world lives. 

We never objectively see the real world anyway - for example, our brains filter out unwanted and background noise. Wondering why you didn't see that additional finger on a person in a deepfake video? You did see it, your brain decided to ignore it. We all exist in our own filtered existence, none of us ever objectively “see” the real world, we interpret it. And if all of life boils down to your experience, what then is the difference between social pain caused against you online or in real life? 

As I have discussed before, empathy is key in cybersecurity, and a key method we can all apply in keeping empathy central in our actions is to remember that the digital world IS real life.

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