Internet of everything. Or Internet of isolation?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love digital and technology. I eat it up for breakfast. I’m lost without my iPhone – as I discovered recently when I realised I’d raced out of the house without it. Total panic set in – how would anybody reach me? How would I contact them? Of course I would have access to other phones and devices from my desk, but that didn’t abate my panic at the thought of my commute home with no digital communication.
This led me to thinking about my reliance on a small device that I had once used only to send texts or make the odd call. I didn’t like what I discovered. Technology has started to control my life, from the time I wake up, to the outfit I put on (thanks for the warning, Weather app), to the Trainline app that prompts me to leave the house. I laughed at my colleague when she got her paper tube map out the other day – what total madness! Why use paper if you can download an app for that?
Even my weekends are no longer a chance to switch off, I’ve actually done my week’s food shop from the comfort of my armchair – despite the Supermarket being only 4 minutes away. I can’t even pretend it’s for the convenience, as I’ve been known to spend just as long shopping online as I did in-store, although I’ll largely blame the app that cleverly hooks me in with smart, personalised offers.
Not that I stay in the armchair for long, as my fitness app soon notifies me that I need to get up and move. So I obediently head to the gym to catch up on those steps and win the all-important badges for targets set out by my wearable tech. Balancing my weights with some gossip with my (digital) friends, and online shopping (thanks to Amazon’s one-click purchase I’ve even managed to order new curtains from the treadmill). I was feeling quite smug at my multi-tasking – until my Fitbit reminded me how much my pace had slowed down. I can even pander to the hypochondriac in me with the lovely built in heart monitor app. Although checking it 20 times a day I think can in itself cause enough stress to make it rise!
Much as I appreciate the benefits technology has brought both to my private and professional world, I have to face the facts…where once I might have taken the odd browse on social media and maybe a sneaky peek at my work emails on a Sunday evening, I now find myself having 10-15 not so sneaky peeks a day. I am living in a hyper-connected virtual world that never switches off and judging by the number of people plugged into a device on my commute every day (probably about 99%), I am most definitely not alone.
I’ve also experienced the declining physical world through the eyes of my two ‘Y’ generation sons… “But Mum, why can’t we Snapchat Grandma to thank her for the birthday present?” And a family night in doesn’t have quite the same meaning now – we may be physically in the room, but with four iPhone owners in the family we are rarely actually ‘in’ the same room. That said, living on 3 floors I’m sometimes grateful for Facetime when it comes to calling them to the dinner table!
Where will it end I wonder? I’m reminded of the wise words of Ben Hammersley at a keynote I attended about 18 months ago. Tech evangelist and self-professed digital addict, Ben took us on a journey into his own gadget-tastic world. How I chuckled as he described a scenario where his Jawbone app was black-listing contacts in his LinkedIn based on the rise in stress levels it detected during meetings with culprit individuals! But reflecting back now, I’m not sure I’m still chuckling as I realise my wearable tech may actually be wearing me!
Ben went on to suggest a world in which the connected home would dim the lights and play soothing music as we arrive home if our app has detected we’ve had a bad day. A world where the connected car will steer itself and put an end to the need for delivery drivers. And that connected world is really not far away. As a recent Guardian article quoting Oxford economists Dr Frey and Dr Osborne suggested, “40% of all jobs are at risk of being lost to computers in the next two decades”.
In this world of rapid digital transformation I’m thankful I work in a creative consultancy surrounded by a very human team of idea generators. While robots and computers may slowly replace many jobs, creativity remains a uniquely human quality they simply cannot replicate. “Computers are very good at processing problems once the problem has been specified, but they’re not as good at generating new creative ideas,” says Frey.
Interesting too though to note how “creativity” is in itself changing, and evolving outside of the traditional genres. The same technology that is in danger of over-taking human roles is also driving a measurable shift in boardrooms across the world as we recognise the need for creativity to maximise the ROI on the technology we have built. Perhaps we can find a happy medium, as we see a rise in the creative CIO and STEM sectors transformed by creative scientists and engineers?
Switching off to stay switched on.
So am I going to throw away my Smartphone and disconnect Fitbit? Am I going to fundamentally change my ways and become a technical atheist? Er, come on, let’s get real.
I’d be in serious withdrawal after about a day and I am, after all, a techno geek of the 90’s web boom at heart. But, to quote the very wise man who was at the helm of some of this digital revolution, “Your time on this Earth is limited, don’t live someone else’s life, live by your vision.” Steve Jobs’ legacy has brought us digital tools to enrich our lives, but I think there is a real clue behind his words. These tools are not there to replace our “real” lives!
I see its potential to transform lives for the better, but I may just look up from my screen a little more often. Maybe I will revisit my digital boundaries and switch off the phone in favour of a quiet meal with my husband and reconnect my family with the physical world. I’ll count my blessings that my sons have chosen careers that are both creative and physical, and may even insist on the odd face to face meeting to get under the skin of my client’s brief. And forgive me if it’s a bit passé, but I will most definitely be filling my holiday suitcase with paperbacks that will invariably crack and fall apart in the sun.
Fishing pages out of the pool is just part of the “real world” experience right?