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BYOD: Why You Will Lose

Restrictive BYOD policies will fail because humans have a compulsive attachment to mobile devices.

BYOD is the latest enterprise Boogie Man, bedeviling security and IT professionals everywhere. IT regards the management of personal devices as a simple issue of policy and enforcement, but we seem to be fighting a losing battle. Maybe it's because we misunderstand the real motivation behind a user's compulsive attachment to a smartphone or tablet. I blame Homunculus.

What's a homunculus? In modern psychology and neuroscience, the cortical homunculus represents our concept of self, our identity. There's an idea, the "Homunculus Argument," that a little person (a homunculus) lives inside your head and watches the events of your life, just like a movie on a screen.

What does this have to do with BYOD? It ties to the theory of Extended Mind, which was developed by neuro-philosopher Andy Clark, author of "Natural Born Cyborgs." It's an idea that the mind unifies with the tools a human uses to complete an act of cognition. That could mean pen and paper, a computer, a tablet or a smartphone. In other words, the homunculus in your head bonds with the mobile device and doesn't want to give it up.

This doesn't sound that farfetched when you read about V.S. Ramachandran's phantom limb work. While working with combat veteran amputees, he discovered that they found relief when viewing another person massaging his or her own limb.

Is it any wonder that people resent restrictions on using their devices when they've actually identified with them? In a survey of 3,872 workers between the age of 20 to 29, "...1 out of 3 said they would gladly break any anti-BYOD rules and contravene a company's security policy that forbids them to use their personal devices at work or for work purposes."

Could something be happening in the brain to reinforce this behavior? Researchers demonstrated that texting, and Twitter and Facebook usage activate the same addictive patterns in the brain as heroin and cigarettes. Additionally, in a study conducted by neuroeconomist Dr. Paul Zak of the Claremont Graduate University in California, researchers demonstrated that oxytocin (a hormone linked to emotional bonding and empathy) levels spike significantly during the use of social media, while cortisol and ACTH levels, stress hormones, decrease. According to Zak, "E-connection is processed in the brain like an in-person connection."

These studies point to an essential cause behind the security industry's struggle with BYOD and mobile device management. Security professionals fail to grasp how a human's emotional life influences cognitive choices.

The BYOD problem isn't going away, and in fact it may get more complicated. With advances in neuro-engineering and brain-computer interfaces, we may even be faced with more extreme versions of this problem in the future, in which employees come to the office with technology embedded into their bodies--the ultimate BYOD.

Consider how science continues to make advancements toward using technology to overcome the limitations of paralysis or to repair damaged areas of the brain. Many of these devices will be wireless and in our enterprises. Parag Khanna and Ayesha Khanna in a recent TED book said we've entered a "Hybrid Age, ...a new sociotechnical era that is unfolding as technologies merge with each other and humans merge with technology...."

If BYOD is simply a natural evolution of our society, why wouldn't we do everything we can to facilitate this growth, a rapid acceleration of creativity and problem solving? The answer can't be, "No," but a qualified, "Yes, and...."

Michele Chubirka, also known as Mrs. Y, is a recovering Unix engineer with a focus on network security. She likes long walks in hubsites, traveling to security conferences, and spending extended hours in the Bat Cave. She believes every problem can be solved with a "for" ... View Full Bio
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