The Wide Wired World

By Iman Ahmad
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The scene is familiar – you get onto the train or bus at rush-hour and while attempting to move where there is space to stand, you’re obstructed by a person absorbed in his mobile device, completely oblivious to the angst situation around him. Where there could be room to breathe, space is taken up instead by an inconsiderate extended arm, holding what else but another mobile device. More often than not, he’s Facebook-ing, indiscriminately targeting birds or crushing candies. Occasionally he’s being *productive* i.e. reading the news, sending an email or typing a message. As you ponder over the subjectivity of productivity, you resist the urge to slip the device out of his hand and ride triumphantly off into the sunset with it.

 

Technology has been ever-present in our society, constantly evolving to improve our lives. It has quickly integrated into business, education and healthcare. How integral it is to our lives depends on its relevance to our daily tasks and our access to it. This is largely due to the advent of two technologies: i) The Internet and ii) Wireless Communication. The PC/Mac was an exciting leap when it finally came into our homes to assist us with making our documents look *official*. When the Internet came along, we realised that the PC really hadn’t been enough all along. From Email to IRC to the World Wide Web, we were given a whole new world to explore. It was the culmination of the Information Age. And still, the common person could hardly have imagined it would take over our lives as it has today.

 

When cell phones first came along we were content with calls and messages on-the-go, playing Snake as joyful kill-time, and listening to music while doing both the former. Then, someone decided there shouldn’t be barriers between these activities, and mobile devices began to integrate seamlessly with everything in our lives, including the Internet. Soon, information was more easily accessible than ever; we were more communicable than ever and we became truly connected. Thereon, we were wireless and wired[1].

 

Nobody can deny the benefits of the wide wired world of today. The ease with which we conduct information, people, work and entertainment, is undeniable. Contrary to the belief that it increases the risk of alienation and isolation from society, evidence shows that we are more sociable now than before the advent of the Internet (1). Sociable in the virtual world, that is (how many of you are in multiple groupchats on Whatsapp?), but far more than in the physical world. Without leaving the comfort of home, we cross borders and travel in time. We know what is happening around the world an instant after it does because it’s on social media. We depend on social media for all our information. When was the last time you referred to an encyclopedia rather than Wikipedia? Yet while we feel freed by the ease of it all, I wonder about our enslavement by it.

 

As I type this, I’m lying down on the sofa watching a movie on TV. When these ideas started whirling in my mind, I have to pen them down. But penning down no longer involves a table, a pen and paper. It doesn’t even involve a table and a laptop. It simply involves lying down and typing away on my phone.  This is how easy our tasks have become. So, rather than focus on one activity at a time, I break away from one and do another, and break away from that and start a third. It is this ease which has led us to become a society acting increasingly on spontaneity and expecting instant gratification. Nothing takes a great deal of effort anymore. And because we are now used to instant accomplishment, we apply this attitude to other aspects of our lives – work, home, relationships.

 

Society has adapted to the significant progression of the Internet, resulting in vast amounts of digitised information, personal and otherwise.[2] This overload of information makes us feel obligated to know everything. Gaining knowledge is like attaining an education – the empowerment and freedom of the individual self. However, it is also this empowerment and freedom that leads to over-confidence and the death of humility, because we believe we know so much. We have become a generation that is so embroiled in the race to seek knowledge; we don’t even have time for it, let alone for ourselves. Lots of it, but in quick snippets, will do just fine. Writing must now be altered, because an audience no longer has the time or attention-span to read much to get to the point of an article. No doubt, we are a society that is more aware of the happenings of the world than ever before. And yet, there remains an unsettling ignorance – The Internet is unregulated, containing much incomplete and inaccurate information. This puts the responsibility on us to be sensitive and responsible in verifying our sources as well as our own reasoning and capability to act, because more often than not, it will have a profound impact.

 

With all credit to convenience, we must treat the Internet with caution.

 

The truth now is that we all own a piece of it; technology has entered our personal space, and we have let it because we trust it to improve our lives. Even “me-time” now translates into more time dedicated to being informed. The advantages of technology are innumerable, but if it improves the well-being of one person by compromising another’s (for e.g. the peak-hour situation on public transport), then it defeats its own purpose.

 

And yet, there is no fault of technology in this, having its advantages and disadvantages, like everything else. The onus is on us to use it appropriately, marking boundaries and prioritising. Above all, in our continuous march to improve our lives, we should not lose consciousness of our physical selves.

 

 

References

 

  • Castells, M. Open Mind. (2015). The Impact of the Internet on Society: A Global Perspective. [Online]. Available: https://www.bbvaopenmind.com/en/article/the-impact-of-the-internet-on-society-a-global-perspective/?fullscreen=true [2015, August 13].
  • (2015). Social Impacts of Wireless Communication. [Online]. Available: http://www.enotes.com/research-starters/social-impacts-wireless-communication [2015, August 13].

Konsbruck, R. L. Impacts of Information Technology on Society in the new Century. [Online]. Available: www.zurich.ibm.com/pdf/Konsbruck.pdf [2015

[1] Compared to 1991, when subscribers of wireless devices in the world were approximately 16 million, in 2013 there were close to 7 billion subscribers in a world population of about 7.1 billion (1).

[2] As of 2011, 95% of information has been digitised and available either on the Internet or computer networks. (1)

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About Iman Ahmad

Iman is a Materials Engineer with a Master in Mechanics & Processing of Materials from NTU, Singapore. She is known to be a serious person who reads comics with an intense frown on her face. She also secretly wishes she was an actor or a rockstar. She wants to travel through Pakistan’s Northern Areas and Iceland to see the aurora borealis. She is currently between jobs, and refraining from giving in to the temptation of a full retirement. Read more about Iman in contributing writers.