You may not recognize poet John Donne by name, but you’ve probably heard his work quoted at least once. The line he is most known for reads “No man is an island.” Today, an observation like that — especially on social media — could be subject to a long stream of snarky, harsh responses. But luckily, he wrote this in 1624, before internet trolls existed, and his words still echo in our thoughts almost 400 years later.
It’s always been true that no man (or woman) is an island, but it’s even more true today. From a technological standpoint, obtaining and keeping island status is pretty difficult, unless you’ve moved into the wild and off the grid. We live in a connected world, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. While you may not know your neighbor’s name, it’s possible you do know Sergei in Belarus and Nigel in London, thanks to Fortnight and other internet gaming/group activities.
Since everyone over the age of 3 seems to own a smartphone and have worldwide access to anything, you’re probably wondering, “How much more connected can we get?” The short answer is: a lot. But if I ended it here, that would make for a pretty lame column, so let me elaborate.
Wireless equipment manufacturer Ericsson estimates there will be more than 6.1 billion smartphone users by the end of this year. Sure, 6.1 billion is a big number, but considering there are 7.7 billion people in the world — 26% of which are under the age of 14 — some of you out there are probably going to have to share.
Those numbers are great if we’re talking about connectivity. But what about the moments or the days when all you want is to be left alone, to be “disconnected,” so to speak. You might think you can satiate that desire by simply turning off your phone or leaving it at home. But, if you think physical separation from your touchscreen appendage is the fastest way to solitude, all I can say is, “au contraire.” Pardon my French, but their version sounds a lot nicer than me telling you that you are 100% wrong.
This year alone, one in five internet users will own a wearable device, according to Business Insider Intelligence. If you thought of smart watches and wireless earbuds after you read that line, you’re not wrong this time, but you’re not exactly right, either.
Remember when I asked, “How connected can we get?”
Well, what if I told you that Tractica estimates10.2 million units of smart clothing will be shipped this year. I’m not exactly sure what smart clothing does, but if haute couture means your clothing is going to start saying things like, “Put down that piece of pie, fatso” and “You’re going to wear that shirt with those pants?” then my wife is going to be out of a job (but shhh … don’t tell her I said that).
Of course, connectivity can also be synonymous with convenience. Juniper Research claims more than 70 million homeowners will use voice-activated devices to turn on their lights, play their Sousa marches, and perform their Google searches when curiosity strikes and they simply have to know what the capital of Liechtenstein is or where the phrase “Close but no cigar” came from. Some misanthropes will continue to contend that Alexa is recording all of their conversations, but in a world where Facebook thinks the CIA is a bunch of pikers, does it really make any difference?
It’s possible that ubiquitous connectivity may fall short of projections when it comes to autonomous vehicles. Despite being regularly included in the category of “things driving the edge,” it looks like driverless cars need to work on becoming a little more pedestrian-friendly before you can take a nap in the back of your SUV on a solo trip to work. You can talk to your car now and say things like, “Home, James,” but it’s not going to respond anytime soon.
Nonetheless, it’s estimated there will be over 55 billion IoT-connected devices by 2025. The proliferation of tiny sensors will continue to contribute to a boon in business-related applications; however, it may result in some unanticipated quandaries on the consumer side of things. For example, how long does your smart fridge need to know you before you allow it to call you by first name? Now, that’s a question Emily Post or Miss Manners was never forced to contemplate.
As they say in the animatronic monument to globalism that can be found at Disney World, “It’s a small world, after all,” and the ongoing swell of connectivity will only make it smaller.
Donne considered us all to be connected, but he asserted that the inability to be an island resident was due to the fact that you were part of a family, friends and, ultimately, a community. Now, all you need is a smartwatch.