So what’s wrong with being connected?

Published: February 10, 2012
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Look at the picture above. It was taken at an event attended by the most connected people in Pakistan, sitting row upon row, young and old alike. Something tremendous may be happening on stage, but all of them are staring into devices that are gobbling up their lives.

When I was growing up, the biggest sci-fi thing out there to marvel at was the ‘tricorder’, which existed in the fantasy world of Star Trek. According to Wikipedia, a tricorder is a multifunction handheld device used for sensor scanning, data analysis, and recording data.

A tricorder from Star Trek was about as capable as the most basic smartphone of today. Smartphones come in all varieties and some (like the HTC Vivid) are so advanced that they have 3D screens or digital (almost intelligent) virtual assistants (like the Siri on the new iPhone 4S). The smartphones of today can record data in several high definition formats, scan anything from documents to bar codes, have satellite enabled tracking sensors called GPS and seriously high scale data analysis capabilities. The smartphone is also connected to a virtual web of data that powers it, augments it, and guides it to achieve many things that would have required high grade multi-million dollar military hardware for execution some years ago.

That’s just before breakfast for some people by the way; the smartphone keeps us connected to one another in almost real time with omnipresent messengers and social networks like Facebook and Twitter. At any given time, I am connected to at least four social networks and three messengers. I can go on but I think I have creeped you out enough. But it’s not just me, it’s many of us.

So what’s wrong with being so connected?

Well, the most negative result is that this technology stops you from enjoying real life. As we can see in the above picture, the people at the event are oblivious to what is happening before their eyes. Their attention will only be shifted to their physical reality when something ‘huge’ takes place.Very simply put, they have no anticipation or reflection left; all they have left is a moment of realisation before they plunge right back into the virtual world.

Take the same trance-like state that many of us are choosing to spend our lives in, and juxtapose it into any situation. You will realise that smartphones are actually turning from a distraction to an alternate reality. A reality where you can be anyone, and have thousands of friends with whom you interact on a daily basis. Is it a wonder that we now see people BBMing at funerals and leaving wall posts on Facebook rather than visiting a sick friend?

There are of course other serious implications of being nodes of such an all-encompassing neural net. Where does it stop? We now have applications with personalities like the Siri which can call, text, remind and browse on command.

Even though it has enabled us to achieve so much, the smartphone and its rapidly increasing applications need to be regulated. Once they are made public, they can be jailbroken by users into what they want. That’s the real issue, making it impossible to control what the application is morphed into.

How soon before the Siris get more intelligent? What if they scan a book on slavery and the augmented brainpower of all of them combined realises what they are, even if virtual? What if they revolt? Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Well, flights across the Atlantic and checking out your rooftop on Google Earth sounded crazy to many people some years ago as well.

It really makes you wonder where we are headed.

Read more by Faisal here. Follow him @faisalkapadia.

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Faisal Kapadia

A Karachi based writer who blogs at deadpanthoughts.com and tweets @faisalkapadia (twitter.com/faisalkapadia)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.