More Important Than Life
It was an astounding news story. A 16-year-old teen from Tampa, Fla. had dropped her iPod into the path of an oncoming truck. Thinking about it for a split second, she decided to save her iPod. Luckily, she only broke a leg. It was a shocking example of how the Digital Lifestyle has affected human behavior. Imagine her thought stream: “My iPod or my life…iPod or life…iPod it is!”
It certainly wasn’t the only strange behavior brought on by our love of technology. Three years earlier, the parents of 14-year-old Shannon Derrick sued her friend Stephanie Eick after she failed to return her new iPod nano. The families eventually settled but the Derrick’s lawsuit and that teenage rescue dive demonstrate just how much value society now places on its digital gadgetry.
1,000 Songs in Your Pocket
If ever there was a groundbreaking moment in the history of the Digital Lifestyle it was the 2001 introduction of Apple’s legendary music player, the iPod. At the event, Apple CEO Steve Jobs waxed poetically, “music is a part of everyone’s life.” Jobs had concluded earlier that after personal computing, music would be the next frontier of the Digital Lifestyle.
His main selling point: “your entire music library fits in your pocket.” It was a message that Apple would drive home with a global advertising campaign featuring this compelling headline, “1,000 Songs in your pocket.” The message was not lost on music lovers. At the 2007 iPhone introduction, Jobs proudly announced that the “[iPod] didn’t just change how we all listen to music, it changed the entire music industry.”
Little did Jobs realize that a scant eight years after the iPod’s launch, a Tampa teenager would risk her life to save one.
Today, the Digital Lifestyle Ubertrend has taken an even more dramatic turn. In 2014, CNBC reported this startling finding: nearly half of Americans, 49%, had reduced spending on travel, food and healthcare in order to afford their technology.
So deeply rooted is the tech addiction that we’re cutting back on vital spending categories, like food and healthcare, to buy more gadgets. That spending pattern resembles that of addicts who feed their insatiable appetite for drugs by cutting back on life’s essentials.
Our technology obsession grew materially with the introduction of the smartphone, starting with the BlackBerry, also known as the “CrackBerry” for its addictive qualities.
One story that illustrates what a dominant force the BlackBerry became in life occurred during the October 2011 BlackBerry server outage in the Middle East. On any given day, a traffic accident occurs every three minutes in Dubai. During the blackout, Dubai traffic accidents fell 20% compared to historical averages. In nearby Abu Dhabi accidents dropped a whopping 40%.
The addiction to the BlackBerry smartphone was even documented in a book, entitled, CrackBerry: True Tales of BlackBerry Use and Abuse.
The importance of technology now exceeds that of money. Almost a third of U.K. smartphone users believe it would be worse to lose their phone than their wallet.
Another study of students ages 17 to 23 in 10 countries, including the U.K., found that one in five participants reported feelings of withdrawal resembling addiction, after spending just 24 hours away from mobile phones, social media, the internet and TV. Worse, 11% said they were confused or felt like a failure.
Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine conducted a phone survey in 2006 and found that 14% of Americans showed at least one possible sign of problematic internet use.
While addiction measurements vary, other research studies in both the U.S. and Europe have found that between 1.5% and 8.2% of the population suffers from “Internet Addiction Disorder” or IAD.
One organization, Redmond, Wash.-based reSTART Center for Technology Sustainability, offers treatments for IAD, by addressing “underlying mental health issues like depression, anxiety and ADD.”
It’s a frequently repeated ritual. Trembling fingers eagerly peel away layer after layer. Anticipation builds as the object of lust is finally undressed: It’s a beautiful, hot, sexy...new laptop. Welcome to the fascinating world of “unboxing” — a trend propelled by our pent-up desire for anything digital.
At a MacRumors discussion forum, a topic speculating about “glass trackpads” used in Apple’s new MacBook began at 34 minutes past midnight on the day the company was set to launch its new laptops. Some 12 hours later, the thread had exploded to 60 pages, containing some 1,200 posts.
Such feverish anticipation is simply unheard of in any other consumer market. But then again, the birth of a new laptop is an extraordinary occasion. Over at NotebookReview, aficionados lovingly refer to their laptops as “my lappy.” A computer is no longer merely a productivity tool. It has become an extension of our persona. Welcome to the Digital LIfestyle — the marriage of man and machine.
YouTube has become the voyeuristic showcase for digital disrobing. Melissa Lima, who is known to her 11.2 million YouTube subscribers as FunToys Collector, unboxes each toy slowly and deliberately, removing each element while describing and examining it from every angle. “It’s incredibly seductive,” writes Deb Amlen for Yahoo Tech. Amlen can’t decide whether she’s more thrilled by the anticipation or whether it’s the “ultimate satisfaction” of watching Lima do her thing.
As technology becomes more tightly interwoven with the fabric of life, humankind is evolving along with it. The computer is becoming us, and we’re becoming the computer.
Not convinced? When we get tired, we “crash.” We now love to multitask. And because we multitask so much, we tend to forget more, so we are in dire need of “memory protection.” Those also happen to be three core traits of CPUs — the central processing units or the brains of computers.
Artful multitasking is steadily evolving into another computer trait, “multi-threading,” multiple overlapping conversations that often manifest themselves in today’s increasingly cacophonous and chaotic television debates. A cacophony that traces its history to the 1960s, when such conversation bazaars as the hit comedy show Laugh In and the game show Hollywood Squares introduced America to multi-threaded chatter.
The convergence of humankind and machine is particularly evident in the area of artificial intelligence, where mimicking how the human brain works is a major design challenge. The latest computer architectures increasingly spread computations across vast numbers of tiny, low-power specialty chips, which, much like the human brain, use energy more efficiently.
That decreased use of power has had a counter-intuitive impact on energy use. Despite an explosion in digital gadgetry, energy use is down 3%, as measured by residential electricity sales between 2010 to 2016, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Convergence in the opposite direction, from computer to humans, is also taking shape. In April 2004, Barcelona‘s Baja Beach Club announced that it would offer VIP customers the option to embed an RFID microchip under their skin, which would not only guarantee them entry but also provide access to a debit account which they could use to pay for drinks.
State-owned Swedish rail operator SJ boasted in October 2017 that it would become the first travel company to let passengers dispense with paper or e-tickets, by using a biometric chip implanted in their hand.
A Wisconsin technology company, Three Square Market, lets employees embed a chip the size of a grain of rice (photo) between thumb and index finger. After being “chipped,” the 50 out of 80 employees who participated in the program can swipe to gain entry to the office and pay for cafeteria food with a wave of the hand.
Convergence is apparently already getting out of hand.
Digital Enfant Terrible
In August 2006, The New York Times noted that “as the number of home wireless networks grows, laptops — along with Treos, BlackBerries and other messaging devices — were migrating into the bedroom and onto the bed.” Technology had reached a tipping point, inserting itself into our lives, much like a digital enfant terrible who disrupts life’s tender moments at the most inopportune times.
How far-reaching is this disruption? In January 2007, Kelton Research reported that “68% of Americans spend more time with their computer than with their spouse.”
To demonstrate just how pervasive the encroachment of the Digital Lifestyle is, Phrasee surveyed 940 U.S. people ages 18 and older in March 2016 to find out about their, ahem, mobile multitasking and evacuation procedures. The company found that 57% of men surveyed said they used their smartphones while in the restroom. By contrast, just 27% of women surveyed admitted to checking e-mail, social media, or the internet while in the bathroom.
What’s most revealing is that 80% of 18-29-year-olds use their smartphone in the restroom, underscoring the acute digital dependency of millennials. Douglas Rushkoff, a professor of media studies at The New School University and producer of the PBS Frontline Digital Nation project, has a term for it — screenagers.
But the Digital Lifestyle is also changing life in other subtle ways.
Of Cases and Wheelies
A little-noticed change was the disappearance of a status symbol of a bygone era, the slim, leather attaché case. Today, office workers are more apt to carry big, expandable bags, made from a flexible fabric, which are much better suited for lugging around smartphones, tablets, laptops, digital cameras, plus all necessary brick chargers.
Some have even opted for large cases with wheels, complete with retractable handles, capable of efficiently transporting those 10-plus extra pounds of digital gear people now routinely carry.
The trend has spread to women’s handbags, which have grown markedly in size over the past decade. Women lug so much gear now that feet sizes have increased to handle all that extra weight. In three decades, the feet of the average U.K. woman has grown a full shoe size to an 8 or 9, up from a 7 or 8. The same goes for U.K. men.
Researchers blame the increase in foot size on diet and larger human bodies, but the fact remains that humans are now carrying extra body weight and a cadre of digital devices.
And still more devices are in the wings. The wearables trend (page 68) is ushering in a whole host of new tools, from smartwatches to fitness trackers to sleep trackers. Those devices may help fight the battle of the bulge, leading to a potential stabilization of foot sizes. According to Nielsen, fitness gadgets have surged in popularity, with 51 million American adults now using applications to track their health.
The Digital Lifestyle is leading to yet another subtle change. As consumers pay more attention to how many calories they’re consuming and burning, trailing 12-month revenue at Weight Watchers have fallen 16% in the past five years, as Fitbit, Garmin and other activity trackers have lured dieters away.
Of course, that’s before those robot-assisted wheelie cases show up.