Thanks to the Internet we are more in touch with events and people around us than ever before. This occurs both as a secondary effect, where the Net has allowed entities such us news corporations to be far more responsive to breaking events, and we consume the regurgitated result, or a primary effect where we are much more active in our roles as information consumers and seek out new information in the form of the activities of friends on social networking sites, or even “taking part” in events as they happen via discussions with those on the metaphorical front line, making use of sites such as twitter.
A truly “connected” individual in a social circle of similarly connected people, can say at any time exactly what their friends are doing, how each one of them is feeling, locate them on a map, and communicate with them in one of over five different ways at any time. Such an individual would also be able to tell you of any breaking news on major news sites, as well as anything new from a multitude of sources they may follow; including, but not limited to, personal and corporate blogs, new movie trailer releases, the latest weather updates, realtime sports scores, stock prices, and travel information. They could even begin virtual discussions with complete strangers who are in the same location or attending the same events they are.
While the majority of the UK+US population hasn’t reached the saturation point described above, there seems to be a definite trend towards it and with more mobile phones coming with messenger and Skype as standard, and the launch of the new “social mobiles” which give you always-on access to the above plus Facebook, twitter, and last.fm, this trend looks to continue.
We are firmly established at the outcome of the information revolution. All that is changing now is we are getting more data, faster, and in real-time. Many of us are now information addicts, checking emails and news feeds on our mobiles when we are out, sometimes even when we wake in the middle of the night.
Personally I think it’s a wonderful thing to be so connected.
Hi, my name’s Jimmy, and I’m an addict.
But even a socially backwards ubernerd like me can see there’s something ugly lurking in the digital flow. We can already see it in ourselves and others. That slight disappointment when no friends have updated their status on a quiet Sunday, the frustration when your social networking site of choice is unexpectedly unavailable, the anger when messenger just refuses to let you sign in, the sense of isolation when you do manage to sign into messenger only to find none of your friends are online, the panic when you realise Wikipedia is offline and you can’t look up all those things you wanted to check before writing your essay. And the bad mood that comes with it. A mix of frustration, sadness, and even loneliness. This, my friend, is the early signs of what will become Disconnection Disorder. A new mental health issue, just for the 21st century.
It doesn’t exist yet, aside from possibly in a tiny group of hardcore Internet addicts, but what I am predicting here is a very real mental health problem that will be experienced if not by the current youth generation then certainly the next. To go from a state of total information and (virtual) social immersion to suddenly realising you are all alone, that can cause a deep feeling of loneliness and isolation.
Depression will most likely be the primary symptom as the feeling of being alone overwhelms the sufferer. Paranoia may also play a part; fuelled by the sudden lack of real knowledge the imagination may go into overdrive, building elaborate stories to fill in the new gaps. This is particularly likely if the cause of the disconnect is unknown and unpredicted.
We are becoming dependent on our always-connected culture, so used to being immersed in the data flow, that all it would take would be for Internet and mobile phones to be unavailable for one single day, and Disconnection Disorder will be clearly visible.
Luckily DD only lasts as long as the disconnect lasts, however it is itself a symptom of something that we will need to be more aware of and take a more active stance on dealing with in future: Internet addiction. This is made difficult by the ever-growing connectivity of all things; starting with mobile phones then progressing to household appliances, and possibly even items of clothing, everything will be interconnected and communicate constantly with everything else. So in a world where the Internet is everywhere and in everything, how do you define “addiction”? Where do you draw the line?
And when it all stops working one day, how will we react?