As our digital life unfolds, technological advances have changed the lives of millennials. To what end? Are we more concerned about digitally documenting and sharing our life stories than living them?
Wake up … and swipe the alarm clock off. Technology is completely integrated into our routine, and we rely on it to document our every action. The advent of social networking applications that present us to society, from ephemeral partners for some (Tinder) to employers for others (LinkedIn), has made our digital persona – the aggregate of all those profiles – a crucial part of everyday life. It has changed how we spend our leisure time, learn, and most of all, communicate. The landscape is changing fast, and the meaning of being at the forefront changes by the day, as over a thousand apps are made every 24 hours, and Moore’s law ensures that all of our devices will soon be outdated.
The adoption of cloud computing has, despite all of its comedic representation, made technology less dependent on individual physical items, and hence more hassle-free and easy to use than ever. For those with access to it, technology and the Internet has been a great equalizer, giving a voice to an urban citizen or providing free college-level courses to people all over the world.
This board outside of a coffee shop in Oaxaca reads, “Scientists have discovered a new way to chat directly in 3d! They call it having coffee with someone” We changed how we schedule appointments, tell the time, wish happy birthday, order food, hail a ride, commemorate friends, and even how we write: Blackberry Messenger, Whatsapp, and other instant messaging platforms led to the organic evolution of language to be more concise and expressive in a now-familiar format of txt language: a strange mash of onomatopoeia, telegraphese and emojis that worried English teachers and grammar purists that is now all too familiar, although certain conventions are still debated. The repercussions of a networked society are still being felt in all areas of life – Taxi driver strikes against Uber’s disruptive innovation is a perfect example. Social media catalyzed the Egyptian revolution of 2011. Like taxis or grammar, some fear that “true” human interaction will become a casualty of this revolution.
Digital Life: Out with the old, in with the new
Back in 2006, Facebook was made public and promised new ways to network, interact, connect and share our lives. It disrupted how we socialized. Fast forward ten years, and suddenly a Youtuber is a real profession, perfectly unknown individuals become viral stars, Viners are getting roles in Hollywood, and Instagram and Snapchat vie for your smartphone’s camera, your best angles and your coolest, most enviable experiences. How we are perceived depends on how we handle technology. But are we more concerned about documenting and sharing our life stories than living them?
For many, the first thing to do after the final touches of makeup are applied is to take a pic. Pic here, pic there, pic everywhere! When something takes our breath away, awes us or amuses us: PIC! Meme and caption, filter, or #NoFilter galore! Our shifting consumer requirements (our lifestyles) spur the market onwards, reflected in the fact that phone manufacturers have improved handheld cameras, added a front “selfie” camera, and then improved that one to nearly match the rear one, all to lengths that would have been technologically impossible at the start of the millennium. Similarly, storage size must increase, in response to the increasing amount of sheer digital information that we consume and generate, and battery life is a major discriminant for choosing our all-day companion.
Today, 16 GB is paltry. Cell phone network providers have recognized that the mobile revolution and the desire for ubiquitous, high-speed internet connectivity isn’t a mere fad, and presently our contracts with them all but depend on the quality, quantity and price of the internet they offer: gone are the days where SMS fees and phone hours were the deal-breakers. Casual phone calls? Ain’t nobody got time for that. Human experiences have changed along with Verizon’s or AT&T’s data plans: some believe that the mobile boom has enhanced the way in which we reminisce, tell stories, share moments and even process information in our lives; others view it as an impingement upon how and why we live through awe-inspiring moments. Has social media distorted our motivations? Granted, people have always done things to be seen by others, but never were they seen as much as today.
Social media, much like a regular product brand, is designed with consumer loyalty in mind, and continuously reinvents and updates itself to ensure that our interconnectedness remains fresh and enticing. A perfect example is Face Swap, the latest Snapchat feature. It can become addictive. Meanwhile, newspaper and physical book sales plummet, as do the amount of physical, paper letters sent through the mail. Blockbuster went broke. Similarly, will conversations yield to digital communication?
Digital Life: Sharing is caring … or is it?
Digital life allows us to stay in touch faster and easier than ever before. We can share our thoughts with hundreds of people instantly, or peer into other’s lives via Instagram without saying a word to them. Digital life seemingly allows us to be closer to others than ever before, but do we really learn their opinions and know how they feel? Digital life may be fun and easy, but it risks being insubstantial and frivolous.
Regardless, it is here to stay. It is important to ensure that such applications do in fact enhance and not erode interaction: for close friends to continuously interrupt their hurried conversation to text is all too common, and has been the reason for many a parental frown over the past five years, for such disruption of quality interaction often occurs at home. It is all a matter of perspective. Examine hash-tags: on the one hand, they murdered syntax by denoting actions, states or the existence of things; on the other hand, they changed and enhanced how we follow someone’s ideas, they empowered the everyday person to start a social movement. Or they trivially announce what someone had for dinner.
Digital Life: The next update
The battle to ensure our consciousness and attention are with our body will only be exacerbated by the dawn of personal Virtual Reality technologies: as a double-edged sword, some will be repelled by its potential to completely absorb the individual and make him oblivious to his immediate surroundings – yet VR also permits for truer digital interaction than ever before. Mark Zuckerberg recently demonstrated VR Ping-Pong, and David Attenborough narrated an educational video on a dinosaur in a virtual prehistoric setting. Will we desert the physical world in order to populate the virtual one?
Some recent VR sightings certainly evoke the Matrix, Sword Art Online and other popular media representations of people becoming absorbed by a digital landscape. Yet these very same representations also illustrate how it can enhance human interaction instead of deteriorating it. The recent release of a wave of VR products, more affordable than that of the 90s, will ensure that this technology transcends the niche of a pricy novelty and become integrated into the everyday life, along with the famously forecasted “wearable tech”, i.e. the apple watch
Digital Life: Connected with the conscience
As part of what it means to lead a modern life, it is important to consider the implications of the digital nature of our identities. Through what we share, tweet, post and like, we consciously build images of ourselves that we project to the world – and to advertisers. It is important to remember that, ultimately, our online profile is data stored in the company serves, which could be hacked (as was proven by Ashley Madison (although their users probably deserved it)), sold or handed over to the CIA. Technological dependency raises safety and privacy concerns that are a big issue today: ultimately, the data is owned and stored by private entities, whose job it is to remain profitable. Its existence is inevitable, so who should control this information?
The Apple – CIA court battle illustrates the complexity of this debate. Search giants and social networking platforms are not charities, despite the fact that their service may appear to be free, and is indeed indispensable for modern living. Our digital activities will create footprints which we do not always own or control – this wealth of information can, like the Facebook news feed, be used to make technology more efficient and personalized, but it can also profile us instantly.
Progressive legislation and careful consideration of digital property and information monopolies will be essential to safeguard the citizen of our brave new world. In this future of interconnectedness, when the Internet of Things surrounds us, where everything from our heartbeat to a 360 video of our day can be recorded, it is crucial to not simply store our lives, but to live them: when one views a live concert through the smartphone screen, stretching for a good angle, what difference does it make to be live or not?
We record things to access them at a later date, as with a homework assignment drawn on the board, photographed and stored for later reference – if we apply this to our lives, we may miss out. Let us not be the spectators of our uploaded lives, but the lead role. As long as technology brightens the limelight around us and others, it improves our lives. But we must be able to survive and function if we run out of battery.
Are we more concerned about digitally documenting and sharing our life stories than living them?