Always on the Move: Are We Becoming Digital Nomads?

Apr 03, 2014


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We've all seen them: the person walking down the street furiously typing away on their smartphone, completely unaware of where they are going, when all of a sudden . . . boom, they walk right into a parking meter, stop sign, or another pedestrian. It's a relatively common occurrence, to the point where there have even been studies done regarding the dangers of walking while texting (spoiler alert: a lot of people get hurt). In fact, the texting-while-walking fail is so pervasive these days, Apple just announced that they now have a patent to create a transparent iPhone, just so the walking-while-texting population can multitask without fear of injury.

You read that correctly. Some people have become so reliant on mobile technology and the ability to stay connected any time, any place, they now refuse to just stop on a street corner to send a text to avoid injury. They'd rather have a see-through phone so they can carry on their walking-while-texting behavior in peace.

Sigh.

Is this really where we, as a digital society, are heading? Living in Boston has afforded me the opportunity to see these walking-while-texting fails play out multiple times in person. While part of me just wants to laugh at the person, another part of me wants to stop them and just ask, "You really couldn't stop for one minute to type? Are you really in that much of a rush?"

But can I really blame them? After all, think of all the time and marketing power that has been spent telling consumers it is their right to communicate on the go. On one of my recent flights to Washington D.C., a little boy asked one of the flight staff why the WiFi on the plane was so slow. Whether we are in the air, talking on our headsets in the car, or texting while crossing the street-we've been told that our privilege to be moving constantly, and that our technology will move right along with us. The idea of being stationary with our devices is long gone.

Take, for instance, a study I just read regarding television use. Let's first say that snuggling up on the couch and watching TV is one of my favorite past times. I grew up in a TV household, and will always love the dull blue glow a TV screen will give to a darkened room. Unfortunately though, I might be part of a dying breed. An article in Time magazine just noted that millennials are changing the TV landscape. According to the article, "When it comes to younger millennials aged 14 to 24, the bulk of entertainment time is spent on laptops, smartphones, tablets, and Internet-connected video gaming systems. Only 44% of their TV watching time happens on a television."

In a world where everyone is constantly moving, millenials don't even have time to sit down and watch TV anymore. Even when they choose to be stationary (say, if they are using a video gaming system to watch Netflix), they are still using a multitasking device. And why should they abandon old technology for newer, shinier, more mobile options? They have a plethora of devices to entertain them. Television must seem like old news.

In retrospect, maybe this is why e-reader and mobile device ownership has skyrocketed recently. A June 2013 survey by Pew Internet Research notes that "a third (34%) of American adults ages 18 and older own a tablet computer like an iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Google Nexus, or Kindle Fire." This is almost twice as many as the 18% who owned a tablet year before. These sort of statistics make headlines like 2013's "Mobile Devices Will Outnumber People by the End of the Year" seem completely possible. According to the aforementioned article on Mashable, mobile traffic worldwide grew 70% in 2012, nearly double what it was the year before."

I completely understand the need to feel connected-I too love my iPhone dearly, and feel isolated and sometimes panicked when I've just left it in the other room. But watching the "evolution" of mobile also scares the crap out of me. Do we really feel the need to stay connected all the time, or have we just been programmed to believe it is the general norm? And if a transparent phone is an actual, viable option in the ever-changing mobile technology world, what could possible be next?