The Changing Face of the Internet: Where is Technology Taking Us?

In a Starbucks on Leith Walk, not a single person is sitting without their laptop out. Well, almost; there is one woman with a book, the savage. I know a lot of people who would cry out at this scene.

“Where has our sense of connection gone?”

“Why does nobody communicate anymore?”

The answer to these questions is simple, if you aren’t stuck in some regressive mental-bind. We are connecting and communicating, in fact even more than ever before: we’re simply doing it in different ways. We’re now able to do it in different ways, and are adapting. A couple of people walk in and sit down, chatting casually over their coffees, and seem somehow quaint given the context.

I’ve been doing a little research lately in to the future of technology. Particularly I’ve been interested in how this is going to impact our conception of the internet and social media, with a magnifying lens over the role of bloggers and marketers. I like to have a finger on the pulse of what’s going on right now, and an eye on what seems to be coming next.

I now regard myself as someone who ‘works online’ yet what does that even mean? More importantly, how is this concept going to change over the next few years? The very idea of being ‘online’ is becoming outdated. A decade ago, it meant sitting in front of a desktop computer, plugged in to the wall. Now, it means having some form of internet-connected technology on you; this could be anything from a laptop to your wristwatch.

The integration of the ‘online world’ and our offline existence is really coming in to its stride. Going back to my current scene, I’d bet everyone in this coffee shop is online. Yes, even the book worm over there, occasionally checking her iPhone. In the coming years we’re going to see an even greater integration, and with advances in virtual and augmented reality this is already happening.

Just look at what Pokémon Go did to the world. There are even shops where you can actively scan the store with your phone’s camera and see the special offers or be directed to where particular things are. Soon enough, technology like Google Glass (and eventually more invasive technology) will eradicate the need to have any actual hand-held device. Amazon are developing stores where you don’t even have to stop and pay for what you’ve picked up: your purchases are automatically registered and paid for as you do your shopping via your smartphone.

Future generations will look back in amusement at how we actually had to carry around and own the multitude of devices we currently do. I can see a future ‘laptop’ which allows you to do all the things today’s laptop can do (and more) without there being any physical device. Monitors on (or in) your hands plus some augmented reality eye-wear will mean you can sit and browse the web anywhere in 3D, typing on any surface.

I’ve just finished reading this article on the future of technology and it’s a fascinating read. Speculation, sure – but informed speculation. The idea of flying cars has for some time been a bit of a trope for what ‘the future’ will be like. Yet now, in 2018, it’s a realistic step in transportation. Not so long ago a self-driven electric car would have seemed just as implausible, yet I’ll be using them within my lifetime I would bet.

When you think about it, flying cars aren’t actually all that far-fetched. We already have planes, helicopters, and hovercrafts of all sorts so – especially now with the advances in drone technology – what’s so fantastical about a flying car? If we could not only make cars self-driving and electric, but able to fly, we could completely free up ground space for other functions and have a huge impact on the health of our planet and the safety of people. Cars could operate just above the buildings, with rooftop parking and that sort of thing.

I think the whole thing about flying cars and how they seem like some abstract symbol of ‘the future’ is that in truth we never will have flying ‘cars’. We’ll have some sort of flying transportation that functions much like a car, but the idea of a car that flies is what makes it feel so futuristic and implausible. It creates a breakdown in how we conceptualise the present and future, seeing them as two absolutely distinct states.

In reality, all we have is the present and it is continuously developing. We will probably never have flying cars, but advances in technology will replace traditional cars with a similar tool. A much more efficient, planet-friendly, cost-effective one at that. It’s far too easy to get stuck in this mentality: the idea that there is now, and there is the future, just like there is the past.

It’s an important way that we conceptualise our existence, this sense of time. Yet, it is just a concept: a mental tool that we use to understand our world. One which we’ve translated in to a more tangible, mechanical form through the invention of clocks and that sort of thing. It’s a massively useful tool, yet it has become something we feel trapped by. It is seen as some force that runs, even ruins, our lives. We’re always running out of time, and we never have enough of it.

I feel like on some level our self-victimisation at the hands of time reflects some deep-seeded fear of our mortality. Yet, if going in-depth in to the non-existence of time is too much (which I internally conceded to a moment ago) then this is definitely a topic for another time. Pun intended.

So in this rapidly changing world, I’m left wondering where the likes of me will sit. I’ve recently transitioned in to working online – so in essence, wherever there’s a Wi-Fi connection – yet given the radical changes we’re set to face, in what ways will this change?

For people currently working online, whatever these changes are, they could mean disaster if we’re unable to adapt. In general, it will mean more opportunities for people to work ‘online’ as what that terms actually means is going to change drastically. The world is becoming more and more connected, and there’s a shift away from the conventional workplace set up and dynamic.

So many people now aren’t opting in for the traditional nine-to-five. Particularly my generation – the millennials – and those who come after, who have known little other than a world of immersive technology and social media, will have some interesting roles to fill.

It’s becoming more feasible to make a living doing something you love, providing value to people in the way that you are naturally inclined to. If this means sitting in your PJ’s playing Nintendo, there’s a market for that. People are making millions doing just that. Want to travel the world? Go for it. You’re a writer? An artist? Get paid for it.

The internet has already provided anyone with a little bit of savvy to do exactly this, and in the near future this is going to become more achievable, and much more common. The world is changing in ways that even the most forward-thinking of us will be gobsmacked by. I can see us having quite an adjustment period as well. We are bringing highly advanced technologies in to the daily lives of millions of people, and not everyone is ready for these types of changes or handling them particularly well.

When I look around, yes I’m surrounded by people on their phones, or lost in their laptops. While I don’t see this as a negative thing, I do see how this can be detrimental to people’s lives. Reliance on technology is a big issue. I have friends who are practically incapable of functioning without their phone, which does not strike me as healthy, and in fact is one of the most recently recognised forms of addiction. This of course isn’t a problem implicit to technology (we can become addicted to just about anything) yet there are aspects of modern technology and media which seem to add fuel to the fire.

Social media worries me in this regard. There has been some discourse lately on the ethics behind the way certain platforms such as Facebook operate, and the way they ‘programme’ a certain level of dependence in to users. The potentially trapping positive feedback loop that people end up in from receiving likes on their posts and photos is claimed by some to have been capitalized on by the creators of the software. The creation of our digital selves through a variety of social media does certainly seem to be having unusual effects on people’s sense of identity and self-worth.

There are also major concerns within some circles regarding the potential negative impact to our health that Wi-Fi can have, and I haven’t even touched on the ensuing robot-uprising thanks to our advances in artificial technology (again, I’ll go in to this another time). Clearly we need to be sensible going forward, and learn the truth and potential hazards regarding these sorts of matters. In a world where digital technology plays such major and intricate roles, it’s vital we understand the tools we’re using to the best of our ability, and use them responsibly.

I feel this is particularly important for people who work online, or in any capacity where they’re glued to a screen for much of their time (which applies to many of us, regardless of the work we do). Healthy habits regarding our interactions with the internet are already crucial to people’s wellbeing, and I see this becoming a much more pressing concern going forward. The personal sovereignty that working remotely offers will mean nothing if, like the generations before us, we don’t put our wellbeing first.

As with any change in society there are worries and there is excitement. The difference now is the magnitude and volume of these changes. We are moving faster than any time in human history, and we need to brace ourselves for what’s to come. We are spiralling down the rabbit hole, and there’s no guarantee as to where we’ll end up.

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