This morning I got a text from my housemate, who…was in the next room. Fed up with sending lengthy texts back and forth, I decided to get up, walk to her room and – insert shock horror here – talk to her face-to-face sans smartphone. In fact she often sends me Facebook messages from the next room, yelling across the hallway telling me to check them. “Yeah hang on, I’ll check it in a minute,” I’d yell back.
It’s alarming how much we rely on technology to communicate and stay connected – even in today’s day and age where I struggle to get mobile reception, let alone internet. If internet connection were to improve – particularly with the National Broadband Network (NBN) in place – alongside developments in technology, it’s clear our social and economic participation in the digital economy will never be the same.
The Australian Communication Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) (Nansen, Arnold, Wilken & Gibbs, 2012) suggests that next-generation broadband can bring much more than enhanced levels of communication, and focuses on the possibilities behind time solving activities (telecommuting, online shopping, study opportunities), the substitution of physical services to services electronically, and engagement in online communities.
Just check out the video below.
These benefits of course are expected to bring about better opportunities for the management of work-life balance, access to education and health, and the overcoming of geographical barriers. But what would happen if this engagement were to become too much? If such time-saving activities and electronic services became too convenient, and the idea of a digitally ‘connected’ household looked more like a family under house arrest?
Professor Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together (2011), suggests that in the rise of a more digitally connected world, we are expecting more from technology and less from each other. She talks about the psychological power of digital technologies and their ability to change what we do and who we are – and she makes a good point.
The digital home
But what we can see is not only a shift in social and economic participation, but a shift in the functionality and architecture of the home, leading to what the ACCAN (2012) refers to as the transition of the home into a smart digital space.
Multinational provider of communications technology and services, Ericsson, believes that in the ‘Networked Society’ more than 50 billion items will be connected in order to make our lives more efficient and more enjoyable (Dorothea Axelson, 2011) – Jetsons style.
They predict a home full of possibilities; carpet that recognises when it needs cleaning, only to trigger the vacuum to do its job, a home that downloads your favourite playlist and has it ready for when you get back, a home that takes a strong interest in your personal life. A little creepy if you ask me.
How close are we to this reality?
The Australian government promised the NBN will connect all Australians, as such technologies suggest. At present, we are faced with the digital divide – the presence or absence of internet connection – much like the digital divide between my roommate and I – she gets full access to the campus Wi-Fi from her room, while I hold my tablet high against the window in desperation for just one bar of signal.
But when it comes to the digital future, the ACCAN stresses the consideration of the new ‘participation gap’. They point out that despite having the technological dimensions, such infrastructure is not enough to secure inclusion into the digital economy. Rather, participation in terms of affordability, as well as the knowledge and expertise to “successfully understand and use such technologies” is what’s needed.
So what does a 66-year-old man have to say about all this?
Retired South Coast dweller, Graham Scott, made the switch to Wi-fi just last year after relying far too long on dial-up internet. He recently purchased a new tablet and couldn’t be more proud, however, he says his current broadband plan is too costly being the main reason he doesn’t use the internet much. “If we had NBN we’d use it for everything; our Smart TV, Skype, the PlayStation 3, unless it’s too costly,” he says.
Despite its many uses, Graham says having the NBN would just be a ‘time consumer’. “Instead of doing other things, I’d sit on the tablet all day, and probably get addicted to Facebook. During my life as teen we didn’t spend hours wasted on phones and technology, and time felt like it was a lot slower. I don’t know if it’s the technology to blame for that.”
Graham never imagined the idea of a ‘smart home’ and definitely prefers the non-digital lifestyle, “I can tell you now, I won’t be using any of that [technology], it’s too unreliable.”
So when the government claims the NBN will connect all Australians, everywhere, I say yeah, so as long as you can afford it, and know how to make use of it.
Nonetheless, big players Samsung, Google, and Apple have already invested into the world of smart home technology, (pedestrian.tv, 2014) with Apple developing a home automation system that allows users to control their domestic devices. Maybe one day our homes will run off their own operating system, and when they do, things will never be the same again; just don’t fall in love with it, no, literally.
Australian Government, 2013, What Australians will miss out on: At home with the FTTH NBN, online video, YouTube, viewed 18 August, 2014. Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgudKBZ-4HI
Axelson, D 2011, The Social Web of Things, online video, YouTube, viewed 23 August, 2014. Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5AuzQXBsG4
Nansen, B., Arnold, M., Wilken, R. & Gibbs, W, 2012, Broadbanding Brunswick – High-Speed Broadband and Household Media Ecologies: A Report on Household Take-up and Adoption of the National Broadband Network in a First Release Site, Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, Sydney.
Turkle, S 2011, Alone Together, online video, TEDxUIUC, viewed 18 August, 2014. Available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtLVCpZIiNs