We can view recent human history in reverse to gain an insight into the evolution of connectedness.
Smartphones sprang into our collective consciousness hot on the heels of the Internet, which came forth from the fax machine, which in turn came from the spread of landline telephones, and so on.
The technologies we have embraced have changed us as much as we have replaced them.
The 'always-on' consumer
Seldom does a night pass that we are not awoken by the sound of a text message or email notification ringing from our phone, which is inevitably stowed near the bed.
The modern consumer is always on - thanks to the spread of smartphones, laptops, iPods, and in-dash car infotainment systems, and they can be categorised into four distinct types of consumers (or personas):
- Social butterflies
- Working professionals
- Everything tech
The increasingly connected nature of our daily lives draws the ire of those who would have us "disconnect" more often.
Those voices are greatly justifiable, since more problems emerge from texting while driving, not to mention less damaging issues like workplace slacking by employees wasting time on their smartphones.
The benefits of hyper-connectivity
Technology is revolutionising the way we shop, almost entirely for the better.
Shoppers arm themselves with their always-on smartphones in their pockets as they head to the store, allowing them to comparison shop in real-time before making a purchase.
Moreover, the more devices and stores adopt the near-field communications (NFC) chip; the more those shoppers can make purchases on the go, right from the comfort of their phone, without reaching for their wallets.
While those factors make life easier for consumers, mobile-assisted shopping still pales in comparison to the ease offered by fully-mobile shopping apps that let you order what you need right from your screen without leaving the pleasant confines of your home.
Looking beyond the benefits of hyper-connectivity when shopping, people now have the ability to fact-check others on the fly, research information instantly, and find places to go and things to do with incredible ease, all thanks to being always on.
The downside of hyper-connectivity
The biggest problem stemming from our always-on reality comes down to a perceived shrinking of the average person's attention span.
The International Journal of Communication reports that educators fear that growing scores of students are incapable of discerning quality Internet sources from crud.
As data from Pew Research indicates, 40% of surveyed scholars think that the rising crop of students is severely lacking in critical thinking skills.
Similarly, social media, fun as it may be, leads that same group of respondents to feel that social media is severely hindering real-world social interaction.
Factor in problems like texting while driving and cyber-bullying, and critics have plenty of ammunition when it comes to finding a downside to hyper-connectedness.
The future is always on
Keep in mind that we are only in the infancy of technologies like mobile and social.
People have the remarkable ability to adapt to new social norms. Forthcoming generations will grow up in the always-on reality, with not even a distant memory of the pre-web decade's current adults have experienced. These pure, post-digital natives will relate their connectedness to their society and value system differently. Ideally, they will work through the trouble spots, and integrate tech into life.
Various organisations also have to adapt to the way technology is changing the world.
The first being education, which needs to embrace the way people get information in a way that presents the information with immediacy, so that good sources do not get lost beneath crummy search results.
Just as music services such as iTunes and Spotify are finally viably bringing the record industry into the digital space by embracing it, educators have to acknowledge the fact that a person's ability to learn no longer exists exclusively inside a classroom.
The web has made information free; it is up for the industry to reverse-engineer the flow of information into something monetised. Anything else is just dreaming.
In the future, when the old flow of things finally succumbs to the ease of use associated with hyper-connectivity, always-on will always work, because it will not conflict with the old ways of doing things.
So, back to the question
Is our hyper-connected lifestyle good or bad?
The truth is, it can be the best thing that ever happened to us. In the digital space, it is hard to hide bad consumer reviews and unsupported claims, forcing a business to adopt a heightened level of transparency than at any other point in history.
As for education, the realm of academia will eventually come to terms with the fact that hyper-connectivity will make it possible for more knowledge to be made available to more people than at any other time in human history - which is undoubtedly a good thing.
We, as individuals, have to grapple with it in our daily lives, though. Sometimes, you have to put it all down, unplug, and focus on reality, be it driving, learning, or taking in the scenery outside.
What do you think about our hyper-connected lifestyle? Do you believe the always-on digital reality is good or bad? How important do you think it is to unplug, and how often?