For about a decade, the question: 'Do you have wireless?' has been aspirational in nature, with the tacit understanding that 'yes' is the answer you want. Life feels easier when you are connected, and therefore better when it's easy to connect.
But is this really how we want to live?
While chairing the RSA event "Quiet the Mind" by Matthew Johnstone, I was struck by the elegance of one statement in particular: "We are so connected, we are disconnected".
Being constantly available to other people and influences is does not necessarily come 'for free' even when the wireless or mobile connection is free. There is a danger that through this kind of indiscriminate connectivity we undermine deeper connections that we tend to take for granted, including our connection to our minds, our bodies, our breath...not to mention the quality of relationships with other people.
"We are so connected, we are disconnected"
There is always a danger of being considered a technophobe when you air such thoughts, but I increasingly wonder if we will see more of this kind of perspective over the next few years. For instance, today I read a BBC article with the title: Will Digital Addiction clinics be big in 2013? (Although, disappointingly, the article itself is really just a celebration of new gadgets!).
There are some early signs that people are realising that connectivity is not entirely benign, and that it is not simply 'up to us' when we choose to, for instance, turn our phone off, or resist checking our mail....that places far too much confidence in willpower, which we now know is both scarce and depletable.
How can you really be off work, for instance, with the temptations of email and social media completely 'at hand', and the knowledge of colleagues that you can be contacted in emergency(often very loosely defined)?
Internet addiction clinics suggest that we are at the early stages of an epidemic, and some holiday resorts now pride themselves on NOT having wireless networks, with POOR mobile phone reception being an asset, not a liability. Their selling point: Come to our wonderful place, and you really can forget about the world at large...
We have written about this issue before, and hope to return to it again soon. I really don't know how much of this fear is real and grounded, and how much of it is just generalised fear of what is new and unfamiliar. However, a trusted source with neuroscientific expertise, who has thought deeply about the impact of the increase in our screen time on our wellbeing told me something so striking and and counter-intuitive that he preferred to keep it off the record. He said that the denial of the health and wellbeing impact of our over-use of smart phones and constant connection to the internet is equivalent to climate change denial, just in a much earlier stage...
At the moment, when you say such things (e.g. use your phone less, screens are not entirely benign, it's ok to take several days before replying to an email, internet addiction is real, there may be some interesting educational implications of over-use of technology etc...) many seem to reflexly call you a 'technophobe' and assume you must be some sort of 'luddite'.
But that's not the case at all, and most calling for caution also celebrate the enormous gains that such technology has give us. Personally I think it might be a sign of a healthy rebalancing if people start to actively seek out places where they can be relatively disconnected from the world, if only so that they might rediscover a deeper connection to themselves.
What do you think? Do tweet, comment etc...(no irony of course.)