Stick the words computer-, net-,  web-, online- or digital- directly in front of other words and you won’t scare the population half to death:

  • Computer-gaming
  • Net-gaming
  • Web-gaming
  • Online-gaming
  • Digital-gaming.

None of these are remotely frightening. They barely raise an eyebrow.

This is just as true when whatever being discussed has negative, or less than positive implications. You know these things aren’t necessarily good. They can be scary, but they’re not going to terrify anyone:

  • Computer-surveillance
  • Net-neutrality
  • Web-porn
  • Online-privacy
  • Digital-disruption

But when cyber is used as a prefix it is almost always viewed as something bad:

  • Cyber-bullying
  • Cyber-crime
  • Cyber-sex
  • Cyber-war
  • Cyber-terrorism

Although it was big in the 1990s, the term cyberpunk is out of fashion. There may be pockets of geekdom where it is still celebrated, but as far as techno-muggles are concerned, it is faintly threatening.

Even the innocent and, now anachronistic, cyberspace now sometimes carries faint negative connotations. At least in some circles.

This is because we’ve become used to newspapers and TV reports using cyber as their favoured technology-bogeyman word.

That’s not always a bad thing. It’s a form of shorthand that flags what’s coming next. Getting the attention of the great unwashed then warning them to take appropriate care with passwords, privacy and security can often be difficult. So telling them in advance the story is scary at least gets a warning message across.

Likewise, those dreary, cliched clip art images of burglars in striped shirts and balaclavas sitting at computer terminals is another useful form of shorthand. Sure it is crass and unimaginative. Yet people get the message that something’s afoot even if they switch off to the main story being told. And who can blame them for switching off? Often the stories are dull or incomprehensible to everyday folk.