Stop for a moment. Put down your smartphone or tablet. Power off or walk away from your laptop. Relax.Breathe.
If the content of the text above causes feelings of anxiousness or incites an inner monologue—What if I miss a text? Who’s that Snapchat from? What’s happening on Twitter? My e-mails are piling up!— you’re not alone. In fact, if you’re like most typical smartphone users today, by the time the day is over, you’ll have picked up and touched your phone 2,617 times, spent 145 minutes browsing it, and engaged in 76 interactions or sessions with it, according to a 2016 Business Insider report. (If that seems low, perhaps you’re in the top 10 percent who touch their phones more than 5,400 times daily.)
Wherever you find yourself on the mobile-interaction spectrum, one thing is for certain: good or bad, the Information Age has changed the way we interact with others and the world around us. No longer tethered to cords or desks, people can work 24/7 in any space with a Wi-Fi connection (including airplanes), and the line between work and home has virtually been erased. Without a doubt, advancements in technology have afforded more opportunity for productivity than ever before, but are we truly more industrious or successful than we were before the Digital Revolution? With more information at our fingertips than at any moment in history, have we leveraged it to the greatest advantage? While technology has made it easier for us to connect with others, has our interpersonal communication really improved?
While there’s no definitive answer to these questions, it’s worth pausing to consider the effects that technology has on our daily lives and what, if anything, we should do in response. This CEU aims to do just that: to review briefly the evolution of technology and its impact on our personal lives; to provide an overview of how technology has emerged in commercial interiors and changed the way we work; to examine both positive and negative consequences relating to digital immersion; and to offer simple strategies for finding balance in a hyperconnected world. For all the talk about environmental sustainability in which we as a design community engage, the speed at which we live and the volume of information we consume via technology is difficult to maintain for the long term. Functioning at such a frantic pace bids us to establish equilibrium between our lives, devices, and work to ensure a sense of personal sustainability for our health and well-being.
The Digital Era: A Revolution Through Evolution
By definition, the Digital Revolution refers to “the change from mechanical and analogue electronic technology to digital electronics which began anywhere from the late 1950s to the late 1970s with the adoption and proliferation of digital computers and digital record keeping that continues to the present day,” according to Wikipedia. Implicitly, the term also refers to the sweeping changes brought about by digital computing and communication technology during (and after) the latter half of the 20th century. Analogous to the Agricultural Revolution and Industrial Revolution, the Digital Revolution marked the beginning of the Information Age.
While many regard the Digital Revolution as a singular event, PC Mag notes that, in fact, there have been four computer revolutions, the first of which began in the 1960s when computers started to proliferate and were adopted by businesses around the world. A decade later, the second revolution was born when computers were made available to consumers for the first time, which laid the foundation for the third computer revolution, the internet. Currently, we’re amid a fourth revolution that includes smartphones and tablets that benefit from the advent of wireless technology. Each evolutionary phase of technology has changed society in myriad ways, and as technology continues to advance toward augmented and virtual realities, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT), it’s safe to assume that existing technological paradigms will shift yet again.
Today, mobile technology has placed the web into our pockets, and half of the world’s 7.4 billion total population is connected to the internet—a 10-percent increase over last year, according to a 2017 study by creative agency We Are Social. Notably, the report found that social media penetration has reached 37 percent, with a growth rate of 8 percent year-on-year, with 2.5 out of 2.7 billion social media users originating from mobile devices. Further, web browsing is now largely a function people perform more frequently on mobile devices than ever before. We Are Social found that mobile browsing currently accounts for half of the world’s web traffic, noting a 30-percent increase in mobile usage year-on-year.
Smart devices are not limited to mobile phones and tablets, however. Whether it’s door locks or lighting, HVAC controls or security cameras (or that Amazon Alexa everyone loves to chat with), every day more objects are designed for connectivity to the internet, commonly known as IoT. To the uninitiated, IoT refers to “a suite of technologies and applications that equip devices and locations to generate all kinds of information—and to connect those devices and locations for instant data analysis and, ideally, ‘smart’ action,’” as defined in a Deloitte study.
These smart, web-enabled devices are quickly capturing every conceivable market. In fact, “there isn’t a single area of our life that won’t be touched by IoT devices in the next decade,” one blogger from Vision Critical stated. A report by Allegion projects by the year 2020 there will be as many as 200 billion connected devices across the globe, which translates to roughly 26 smart objects per person. Wearable devices are also noticeably growing. From 28.3 million units sold in 2016, IDC forecasts an increase to 82.5 million units in 2020, a 31-percent growth.