Always connected, but how steep is the downside?

Like many readers of this blog, I’m always online. Always connected. Well, most of the time anyway.

As I write this, I’ve got my iPod on, playing music that I discovered browsing the playlists of other people using the iTunes “legal music download” service. The train I’m on doesn’t have wireless internet access. It probably should. I’m sure that at least a handful of the many other commuters I can see using their laptops would pay a small supplement on top of their annual rail pass to be able to access the internet from the train. It wouldn’t be difficult to do either.

About three years ago, whilst I was working at Granada Media, we came up with the idea of launching a broadband wireless services that would give users access to a walled garden of Granada Television content such as regional news, sport highlights, and the popular evening soaps like Coronation Street and Emmerdale. The route we had in mind was Virgin’s West Coast Mainline services between Manchester and London and, perhaps, Liverpool to London. The journeys are approximately three hours station-to-station and, for those of us who are used to being connected to the internet much of the time it would have been worth paying an extra few pounds to have access to our email, web content, etc on the train. So instead of spending hours chit-chatting to Tom the motorway maintenance guy from Ormskirk, we could bury our head in our laptops.

We never pitched our idea to Virgin or any other train service. The closest we got to even trialling the idea was sort-of-pitching (ie. tossing into a conversation about something else) a location based wireless service was when we told the design company behind the Arsenal Football Club website that we’d be interested in doing some concept work on a wireless match programme guide that users could access via PDA’s that they’d hire (or bring themselves) at the souvenir stand at Highbury. I was told, at the time, that a laptop with a good wireless router, could probably cover 25% of the stadium. Fans could, through the multi-media programme guide, watch goals over and over from the stands – an idea that would have worked great that particular year as Arsenal were in top form. They could also order a slice of pizza, the team strip to take home to their kids, or whatever right from their handheld device. It’s an interesting idea and no doubt one that someone somewhere will make a lot of money out of, particularly media companies and gambling sites.

In a previous entry to this blog I wrote about “dating through the network”. One thing I didn’t mention is that, despite the fact that millions of people are using online dating services, most of us still meet our romantic and sexual partners in an offline environment. For many that’s at work, through friends, or at an academic institutions. For others it’s quite ramdomly – I, for example, met my girlfriend on a plane between London and Warsaw where I was going for a speaking engagement. We got to know each other better via text message and phone calls before meeting up again for a coffee but the fact remains that, had my iPod battery not failed me and had I had the laptop I’m writing this on right now with me, much less the ability to connect to the internet from the plane as some carriers are now offering their passengers, I never would have met the girl of my dreams on that plane that day.

My point in all this is simple. We live in a World where it is increasingly easy to go online from just about anywhere – accessing services via SMS, WAP, x-box, refridgerator, iDTV, handheld PDA, or laptop. Don’t get me wrong, there are HUGE benefits to this, but I also find myself wondering how steep the downside is. I’m sure that, in future blog entries, I’ll write about how great wireless technology is, how the iPod has added a soundtrack to my life, how convenient it is to be able to send a photo to my blog or to a friend via email – but hopefully I’ll always remember to link back here, to the question I’ve asked, and not answered, about the downside of being so densely connected to the internet.

"This train is now arriving at St. Albans Thameslink…"

One Comment

  1. This is a really interesting topic. It’s something I did a little thinking on a while back, in terms of how does being “always on” and mobile change the fears and frustrations in our daily lives.
    Some ways in which I thought it might change are below… these are just hypotheses at this stage, based on my own experience, but thought I’d throw them into the discussion.
    DEVICE DEPENDENCY – e.g., do you feel lost or unable to leave the house without your mobile? Do you panic when your Internet connection goes down?
    SECURITY / PRIVACY FEARS – e.g., makes the nightmare of virus attack wiping data, passwords and identity being stolen so much worse
    OVERLOAD in various guises:
    • Choice – ever more options, increasingly accessible, always being improved. When do you know enough to choose and commit?
    • Time – feeling overwhelmed, falling behind
    • Data – longing for escape from ever-growing flood of emails, files to sift through and organise
    d. Fuelling addictions – e.g., compulsive collecting (ebay), immersion in games (especially role-playing)
    FRUSTRATIONS AT SLOWLESS OF REAL LIFE – e.g., annoyance at not being able to get hold of people instantly, impatience at making small-talk

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