Friday, 1 February 2013

Fear Of Disconnection

Yesterday saw two major system outages that had an impact that, whist not serious, was wide spread.  Or at least I say not serious, but it showed just how dependent we are becoming on the on-line world.

First to fail was Twitter. It was providing interrupted service for less than two hours, but a large number of users were showing signs of going stir crazy. Their reality was collapsing in on them. And I'm not joking when I say that many were showing signs of real anxiety. When Amazon lost their main page not only was there no one to talk to but nowhere to shop: Britain's two greatest pastimes were prevented in one swoop.

Now,  I've heard my psychology colleagues joking about "nomophobia" (the fear of being unable to use ons mobile phone) but I suspect there is a creeping anxiety abroad in which people fear the loss of access to their most popular on-line services.  Whilst much of social media is probably little more than an echo chamber for our ramblings, there are those who definitely feel that a significant portion of their reality comprises their on-line presence, and their ability to operate virtually.

As we move inexorably towards the world of Web 4.0 I find myself wondering if we will become so dependent upon on-line intelligence that our fear of being disconnected might not be justified. At present one can joke about such anxieties because being disconnected for a matter of hours is unlikely to cause dramatic results.

However, imagine a world where information is being presented constantly via virtual reality: you are being told where to find your nearest taxi, what time you are due at the appointment you're travelling to, and what you need to buy to stock the fridge (like this). We will reach a point where there is so much data that we require intelligent agents to make decisions for us, or at the very least make a recommendation.

Wearable, ever present, always on computing is upon us with the advent of Google Glasses this year.  Being "always on" you need to be "always connected".  Even the first sets of wearable computing will have mobile communications as they are intended to access the Web.

I can foresee a time (and it's not that far away) when we have become so dependent upon data presented to us via networking that we will feel quite naked, vulnerable even,  if disconnected. I can foresee a time when people will assume that to talk to another need not be on the same continent as them, or even speak the same language. I can foresee a time when being disconnected might have a significant impact on our ability to function in modern society.

So, be careful what you wish for or one day you might just find it is essential rather than just being a "nice to have".