At 22 years old and growing up in the internet age I never batted an eyelid at the increasing virtualisation of our relationships, education and general lives, but recently I have noticed its dominance. Will this eventually lead to the eradication of face to face conversation, relationships being formed and played out in online forums or education being taught purely through online media? Or is it time we put down the phones, tablets, laptops and every other internet connected device and gave our minds some real life stimulation for once.
I still remember my first phone at the age of 13, a Nokia 3310, its best feature was the snake game (obviously) and I probably sent a few hundred texts in its entire lifetime. Throughout my teenage years my online social life progressed, to colour-screen flip phones with cameras, the discovery of MySpace and MSN and incessant messaging on every platform. I recall one £300 phone bill at 15 years old due to going over my text limit that month. Seven years down the line, technology has come on leaps and bounds and I am not ashamed to admit a lot of my life revolves around and feels utterly dependent on the internet.
Last weekend my university internet broke and I had run out of mobile data, at first the thought of being without internet for a few days genuinely panicked me. Though I was still able to call my friends and family (and obviously 999 requires no internet access), the thought of being disconnected left me feeling uneasy. In the end, the break from the outside world for a few days proved to be rather beneficial, I recharged my batteries if you will (excuse the pun). Yet the experience got me thinking, why have I become so dependent on a service which only really became widely available a few years ago.
Mobile phones act like a societal crutch to many, helping them avoid awkward situations, enabling contact with those far away and keeping us up to date with the world. My dependence on this crutch however has developed into a vice. I start to feel a sense of anxiety if I am away from home and my battery is dying, to the extreme of when taking part in a 260mile bike trip my phone remained fully charged for 5 days (thanks to kind people in pubs and corner shops allowing me access to their electricity).
Why do I have this ridiculous attachment to a piece of technology? It offers me no physical stimulation, it's merely a screen with some words from another virtual person - who's only physical appearance comes in the form of a heavily filtered Instagram image. I seem to constantly flit between every social media platform, Whatsapp, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, going forever around in a cycle looking for some inspiration and clearly not receiving any. Alternatively, I could talk to the people who are stood in front of me, but apparently that doesn't cross my mind.
I have noticed the transition of my education into the virtual world too. The old days of University study groups in coffee shops, pubs or even the library seems to be dwindling and instead they have been replaced with Facebook groups. Students no longer seem to bounce ideas back and forth face to face, but leave passive aggressive messages for other group members who haven't emailed the right section of the PowerPoint. Is this really an effective way to learn? Even lecturers are moving to the online realm, for example with recorded lectures on virtual learning spaces. I even had a lecture delivered via webcam in my first year. Again this lack of physical human interaction can't be beneficial to my studies.
Entertainment has been online for years now, with virtual role playing games such as World of Warcraft providing online escapism since 2004. Increasingly popularity of streaming sites such as Netflix lead to more and more "stay home and watch a film" nights, than going out and exploring the real world. An even more recent example of internet entertainment comes in the form of the "Vloggers". This batch of newbies have sprung out of nowhere from YouTube and seem to be generating as many fans and internet clicks as One Direction. Scruffy haired boys with annoying accents and pretty faced girls yack away at the cameras about absolute drivel, but they have created empires and fandom's large enough to put on national tours and release top selling books. The power of the internet.
So that's relationships, education and entertainment all existing in the online sphere, except we already knew that. But have we really thought about it? Do we actually realise how dependent we are on that little router box in the study and how much of our lives circle around the need to have a fast connection? I for one seem like a massive hypocrite writing this article, as anyone who knows me will know I spend my life online. But I've started to realise how unhealthy this really is, I'm trying to wean myself off the WiFi and put more effort into my real life rather than my virtual one. Though is this all in vain, is the inevitable route for the future to be an even more internet dominated society, or will we all soon get sick of the world wide web's choke hold.
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