My wife thinks I am addicted to my smartphone. I think my children are addicted to theirs. I scoff at technophobes who can’t/won’t embrace the kind of technology that might make their lives easier, whilst appreciating the simple bliss of occasionally being totally cut off from the internet. For a while, that is – once back into everyday life it becomes a habit to check emails, twitter, facebook postings, chuck up the occasional Instagram pic that I’ve created, or to get a secret thrill from seeing another follower added to the tally.
Many bandy about the term ‘addictive’ when they actually mean ‘habitual’. The inference of the former is that it is in some way harmful and I guess it is if you stop actually conversing with people except through a machine of some sort. But is it not more a case of evolution, a shifting of our traditional technology-led media like TV and telephones towards online news and social integration? Instead of checking the weather forecast in the paper (always out of date) or even waiting until the end of the local TV news, we simply look it up online. We decry the demise of traditional letter writing and yet more people send written communication to each other in emails and messaging than ever before. Smartphones and tablets have accelerated the shift even more, making it easier than ever to communicate and be informed on the go.
As someone who was born well before the internet age – when I grew up in the 60s the only people who had computers were the giants of IBM, NASA and the guys in the Turin traffic control HQ in The Italian Job – I never dreamt that one day I would have in my pocket the computing power that would have made the CEO’s eyes water of any large organisation back in those pre-internet days.
Then came the first day I installed phototypesetting, the front end of which was driven by – yes – an Apple computer. A few months later ISDN enabled the fast transfer of data over the line. That was only 27 years ago. In 1990 there were, literally, no websites; two years later you could order a pizza online; The iPhone only appeared on the scene in 2007, a mere five years ago. In 2012 my 84-year-old father-in-law regularly surfs the net, uses Skype and is savvy with Ebay.
But it isn’t just about social networking and leisure – every business now has an online presence, many in the form of a website. Those that don’t are considered to be undressed or simply not worth considering. The high street has witnessed the fall of some once big names: Peacocks, Woolworths, Clintons, Game, Zavvi and, the most recent, Comet – who were once at the cutting edge of selling the same technology that was to become their downfall, because they didn’t take advantage of the way we now shop: online.
The amazing thing is the speed at which it is all moving, and this is not just me getting older. If the smartphone is only five years old, during which time we have seen a huge shift in online activity away from desk-based towers to handheld gadgets and millions of useful mini programs called apps, what does the next five years hold for us all? Or ten? And can any business or organisation afford to be left behind? Of course not.
So yes, the internet has become a necessity, like electricity and supermarket shopping. It is the lifeblood of many and the only way to market for an increasing number of companies like Amazon. It is habitual, in the same way as the avid reading of newspapers was and TV still is (though watch that space with interest). But addictive? Of course not. Now where’s my phone gone? Help…