Recently, journalist Jason Jackson posed the question: Do we want to dig ourselves deeper into a virtual environment? Or do we want to be more connected and aware of our physical environment? Jackson then provided a telling example that the latter has a clear, significant value: namely, the Moken people who survived the 2004 Tsunami. They survived using their instinctive skills and the strong relationship they created with their physical environment. The counterargument is that we have seismographs for predicting catastrophic natural disasters. We have technology that will interact with our physical environment and tell us everything we need to know for our safety and well-being.
So what’s to stop us from disconnecting ourselves once we’ve headed down this steep, slippery, technology-dependent path? Our interactions with each other have changed. Going to get coffee with a friend means that we socialize for half the time… the other half we use the coffee shop’s free wi-fi to connect to billions of other people. Our interactions with our environment have changed. Watering the grass has been transformed from an hour spent outside greeting neighbors to a 10 second ordeal of flipping a switch to turn on the sprinklers. Our interactions with the world have changed entirely due to technology.
Here’s what hasn’t changed: the human instinct to want what we can not have.
As the internet of things advances, and technology becomes more and more accessible to all, will we always want more of it? My guess is no. It is already evident in the fact that we are starting to see the desire to be disconnected from technology as a luxury. To be able to travel to South Africa, Thailand, or the Galapagos Islands for a small moment of time and reconnect with the physical environment is now considered a desired feature. Even if you can’t actually get there, just articulating this goal is seen as an enviable characteristic or personality trait. The people who inhabit these places though, currently feel the opposite, still seeing our HD-quality grass as greener than theirs. Eco-tourism is a booming field, its gross profit increasing with the diminishment of environments that haven’t been influenced by Western culture.
Thus, we find ourselves in a state of flux. Our return to nature is providing enough income and influence to endangered cultures that they are in turn, becoming more westernized. Soon, where will we go to escape technology? Where can we go to reconnect to our physical environment? How far will we have to go to find a place void of technological constraints? The answer to these questions are potentially the realization of my biggest fear as we enter the internet of things.