A Whole New World

Thursday December 4 2014
by smayjay

We wake up with a device in our hand and life begins.

It’s kind of a scary statement to say out loud, but if you think about it for the majority of us this is the reality. Okay, so maybe we technically aren’t holding our phones when our eyes first open, but once you’ve switched your alarm off, (which is conveniently on your phone) you’re probably also going to check Twitter or Facebook or other feeds as well, to see what’s been happening in the world while you’ve been in your slumber.

For myself – and I’m assuming quite a lot of others out there too – my iPhone can sometimes feel like it’s physically attached to me. I’m on it so much. I still haven’t figured out if that’s a bad thing or not. I’m not just on it to endlessly scroll through my Instagram and Tumblr feeds, or watch a video on YouTube, but I’m also searching for restaurant reviews and directions for how I can get to a new boutique that’s just opened up. I might be wondering what the weather is going to be like when I visit Auckland in three days time.

Okay, disclaimer: I could be an exception to the rule. I work as a Digital Marketing Coordinator, and manage social media channels for a living. On top of that I have my own social channels to monitor. I tweet a lot, make YouTube videos and am generally a bit of an internet kid.

This merge of realities is becoming the new way of life, and I’m definitely not the only one who thinks so. Burberry recently made a video that talked about the 'blurred lines' between online and offline worlds. Apart from the somewhat awkward Robin Thicke reference, and the fact that the video was made as an advertorial promotion for a company called Salesforce, Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts quite elegantly described our world today by stating: “I grew up in a physical world, and I speak English. The next generation is growing up in a digital world, and they speak social.”

If you think about it, we really are the pioneers of the Internet generation. While our parents might have see the birth of the Internet, it’s only been in the last decade or so that social media has hit the big time, and that’s where we come in: we’ve grown up with this technology. It’s like when we hear our parents or grandparents talk about life before cellphones or television, and how that seems so foreign to us, because that technology has always been around in our lives. The next generation of people will think the same thing about the Internet, and I think that speaks loudly about technology advances in the last few decades, and even years. We’re now the ones building the webpages and apps we spent our teenage years discovering, creating anything and everything that our hearts desire.


We really are the pioneers of the Internet generation.


Things aren’t all sunshine and rainbows though, unfortunately. Growing up on the internet, all our cringe-worthy photos that were once proudly splashed across Bebo, MySpace or Facebook for years to come, are permanently etched into the deep memory of the collective web. When applying for jobs, they’ll probably come back to haunt us, and we’ll curse our past selves for uploading the picture in the first place. It can be hard to ‘future-proof’ our social channels though - when we upload a selfie or tweet out a rant, we’re living in the now, and sharing what we’re doing and feeling. We’re not thinking about how this may affect us one, two or five years down the track when we’re sitting in a job interview. I guess it’s just best to follow the rule of don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your Grandma to see. I know that sounds a bit silly, but follow it all the same, and hopefully your social media and general internet presence will be okay. (Pro tip: There’s also the option of making your accounts private too.)

Speaking of the dark side of the internet, there’s then the debate about living online means we’re missing out on things that are happening around us in a physical environment. You probably saw this video that got shared around various social media sites, which did get a lot of people questioning the amount of time they spend online and on their devices. Not only are we constantly connected, our behaviour online is completely different to how we would act in physical world situations. The first example that springs to mind about this is trolls, or people who hide behind anonymous aliases and attack anyone and everything purely for “shits and giggles.” Kids growing up with this think that there isn’t prosecution if they bully someone else online, and they assume they can get away with it. Currently there’s a legislation waiting for approval in New Zealand that focuses on digital safety online and hopefully it will see a shift in the amount of online bullying that happens. The short version is that if you’re found to be being threatening or bullying someone, you can be fined or see jail time, and kids as young as 14 will be charged as adults. This does seem a little bit drastic, and I think there’s definitely other options too, like actually educating people about staying safe online, and reporting any negative behaviour they see, but it’s scary to think that we do need to go to these lengths to protect ourselves online.


Isn’t the whole point of a date to get to know a person, or do we now just stalk each other from opposite ends of the table?


In all aspects of life, more and more things that were once “offline” are now making the switch as well. Some newspapers are now online only, we write emails rather than letters, we meet people on Tinder rather than at our local café. Jobs are being created in industries that didn’t exist when we were born, opportunities we never even dreamed of are now what we wish for. We’re even able to stalk our latest celebrity crush and find out all there is to know about them, rather than just pinning a poster of them on our walls like we did when we were younger.

Recently I went out for dinner, and the couple sitting opposite from me were on a date - except they both spent the whole time glued to their smartphones rather than actually talking to each other. It’s scary to think that pieces of technology can mesmerise us so much that they’re stopping us from being fully immersed in the moment, especially something like a date - isn’t the whole point of one to get to know a person, or do we now just stalk each other from opposite ends of the table?

A pretty swell example of an online, social media immersed world, is the 2013 Spike Jonze film Her. Although the concept of the film was quite new compared to the usual themes that get thrown around, it wasn’t too far off the way we’re headed. I’m not saying that we’re all going to get Operating Systems that sound like Scarlett Johansson, but more in terms of how digital technology and “the online world” becomes immersed in our lives. You only have to think about the seemingly weekly Facebook interface changes to see how fast things are moving. Especially with things like Google Glass, the technology can literally be with us at all times, hands free. You can take pictures and call people, simply by asking a pair of glasses to do so.

It’s the kind of technology our grandparents can’t wrap their brains around. They’ve lived pretty successful lives without it all, but ask any 16 year old girl to go without her phone for a day, and the struggle is real. In today’s world so much of what we do relies on an internet connection, and our lives can actually feel harder when we’re without it. If we want to enter a competition, we have to do so via Facebook, if we want to find a phone number, we have to Google it (unless you actually kept the yellow pages…).


Ask any 16 year old girl to go without her phone for a day, and the struggle is real.


I personally don’t see this online-offline cross over as such a bad thing. Sure the Internet has its dark corners, but all in all it’s pretty positive. You don’t have to search far to see and read and watch stories about people connecting and learning and building better futures. (You also don’t have to look far to see that video of a cat playing a piano that’s had over seven million views.) For the most part, the Internet helps make our lives that little bit easier, or at least more convenient, why wouldn’t we want that?

I have a lot to thank the internet and social media for. Without it I wouldn’t have a job, and that’s not me being dramatic. Not only that, a lot of my closest friends are people that I’ve met on various social media sites, and I now can’t imagine not having them in my life. I could spout off countless stories of people who have had similar experiences too, all of which show the positive impact the online world has had on our offline world. I have to admit, sometimes I still catch myself referring to something in the offline world as “in the real world,” but if someone were to ask me what made the online world not real, I’d struggle to give them an answer, other than the fact it wasn’t ‘physical.’ As much as I hate to make the reference again, we really have started to blur the lines between online and offline realities, and have created a bit of a morph of the two.

I’m going to leave you with this to ponder: as good as the Internet can be, and is, do you think we’re all developing two identities? Who we are with a device in our hand, and who we are without? And to add to that, is this dangerous, or just a way of life now?

The Internet plays a major part in both my personal and professional life, and I know there’s bad stuff around it, but I’d like to think I'm me regardless of if I’m online or offline. I’d also like to think I could put my phone down for a day and not even think about what’s happening online, but I’d be lying if I said that didn’t seem at least a little bit daunting.

So here’s your challenge: ponder the above questions and then leave a comment about your relationship with the world wide web. Over and out.▼

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