Are We Too Connected?

by Jeff Wiener on January 10, 2013

Throughout 2012 we discussed the growing ‘Connected Everything’ trend, the pervasive presence of internet connectivity in every facet of our lives. It’s a trend that many expect will continue unabated into 2013 and well beyond, but at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas a new question has been posed, are we too connected?

Tech companies and technophiles will tell you that there are innumerable undeniable positives associated with this ‘Connected Everything’ future, as not only will user convenience increase, but with it productivity and leisure time will increase as well. At least that’s what they say.

But haven’t we heard such explanations before? From the rise of Fast Food to the birth of the Internet, innumerable products and services have promised such benefits, only to then create a cyclical reinterpretation of our time, which then again has us looking for time saving options.

While I’m certainly a huge proponent of my smartphone and the helpful things it can do, I do sometimes find that I get swept up in technological innovation, discovering it has changed my very existence without me realizing it.

I’m not sure how many of us have spent time critically analyzing our technology, but it can be a darkly disturbing exercise. Far too often we’re told the next upgraded iteration of any given product is necessary, for not other reason than progress—that is, advancement—is an end in itself. But few of us likely take the time to think whether or not such advancement is necessary, even less so how it might affect our lives.

It’s a question technology developers often don’t want to think about, knowing full well that their revenue stream depends on convincing us that we need a new TV, a new computer, a new refrigerator, or what have you. The problem is, however, that technological progress has little in the way of philosophical controls, that is, someone who asks ‘why’? To quote a hackneyed line from the classic dinosaur disaster movie Jurassic Park, our “scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

But such existential and even ethical questions were front and centre yesterday at the CES, as panellists convened to discuss where technology is heading and how it might affect our daily lives. While the panellists agreed that pervasive connectivity would be a boon to certain industries—particularly the medical community—I was intrigued by the existential questions wrought by such a discussion.

Following a statement from the panel moderator that technology is really about convenience, one panellist replied that such an approach is overly simplistic, given that our current micro approach to technological development often misses the big picture. As the old adage goes, “when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

The point being, technology is never benign and through its use the user is often irrevocably changed—just think for a moment how your life is dictated by the clock, a simply device that measures the passing of time–meaning that our understanding our how we use our time, what convenience really is, and everything else in between are all altered by such technology.

While I have yet to be impressed by any of the products I’ve seen out of the CES so far, I found myself impressed by the philosophy of technology presented at the conference, a philosophy that should remind us all that technology is our tool, not our master. In fact, as one panellist mused, do we really need our water bottles tweeting? Proof truly that we really can have too much connectivity.

{ 3 trackbacks }

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March 15, 2013 at 5:33 am
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September 19, 2013 at 5:41 am
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