Posted 14th January 2014 | By Nick Evans, Chairman

Arianna Huffington of Huffington Post fame recently went a whole week unplugged from her connectivity.

She found it a liberating experience and noted that "no device or screen can match the HD quality of the actual world".

The truth is that the way we live has been irrevocably changed, not just by computers in general, but by mobile devices in particular; devices which connect us with the online world, provide a medium for voice, text, image and video sharing; devices which have become an extension of ourselves - and an extension of reality - and without which we find it hard to function.

Many will scoff at this (usually those who are not so connected and turn their mobile off to "save the battery"), but the truth is that this "meta-self" - the online person - is becoming the identity by which we are defined. No longer is it necessary for you to meet Nick Evans in person - he's everywhere: on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, this blog and a dozen other media where his presence may be felt; commenting, uploading, showing his avatar - and all of this in addition to his one-to-one emails, telephone calls, texts and of course, face-to-face meetings.

The corollary of this ubiquity is that that same Nick Evans needs constantly to be communicating, sharing and commenting in the online sphere. How does he do that? On his computer at work; on his phone while on the move; on his iPad at home - or indeed, any combination of these in any place. People no longer use a single device to stay in touch - they use what's to hand; what's relevant in the context.

Many observers have noted that this constant connectivity makes us isolated - "Christmas: a time when families gather together and each stare at a small screen" - and, bizarrely, uncommunicative: have you ever tried to get sense from a teenager locked into their phone or tablet? (However, since when have teenagers ever been "communicative"?) Older people are no better and some believe that this is leading to a disintegration of the family. One joke about how to get your family together in the same room is to unplug the router and then wait next to it!

So, being a technophile and, actually, thinking that all this connectivity and screen-gazing is a good thing, here are that same Nick Evans's thoughts on why connectedness is important and why we should encourage, not discourage, people to use the facilities of the connected world:

  1. Connectedness is about a whole bunch of good attributes: sharing, communicating and creating. We may look back to a golden age before youngsters had phones and tablets, but actually the teen of today is more likely to be developing their literacy and critical faculties through creating, reading and commenting than they ever did before. The ubiquitous "selfie" may seem a vainglorious activity but it is often a statement of pride in the self and a creative and competitive response to their peers' own online presence. Not to say that there isn't a downside to that type of activity - there certainly is, but are we to say that this is more problematic than issues pre-connectivity?
  2. Being connected keeps you in touch - without it, you cannot follow news, views, culture in such a dynamic and immediate form. Connectivity delivers to you nuggets of information about those areas that interest you - you choose your topics and media. Personalisation of your own news feed is becoming more and more relevant
  3. Connectedness with friends, colleagues and the wider world expands your horizons. New ideas, products, concepts, methodologies and trends are shared with viral rapidity across the net. Are we simply followers of fashion or is this a mind-broadening experience? As with everything else, that depends on the individual. If your idea of culture and relevance is "Strictly Come Dancing" then that will be your theme. However, can any connected user truly say that they have not benefited from a new recipe, workout idea, business technique, inspiring online video, or simply just been made to laugh by yet another cat with a funny face? It's not all trivial - some of it is - and some it is quite life-changing
  4. Using connectivity makes us work better. Nobody wants to be working 24/7, but equally if opportunities or problems arise outside normal working hours, you'll want to deal with them, unless you are really just a 9to5-er. Keeping our ears to the ground, using our connections to find new clients, communicate our products and services or simply to understand what the world is doing in our sphere of activity has to be a major benefit to us and to the companies or organisations for which we work
  5. Friends and family stay in touch more when we are connected. The reality is that Facebook has transformed family life, particularly where they are spread across the globe. As a means for sharing the highs and lows of existence through texts, posts, pics and videos, and the fun of bite-sized comments and jokes, this medium and others like it have kept people together in a way that the telephone never could, providing an emotional as well as a communicative connection
  6. Connectedness allows you to create an online persona to complement your physical one. We all create personas - they are the shield with which we protect ourselves. Yet, no one criticises that practice: people may think, it's hard to get beneath the skin of Nick Evans, but ultimately, they accept who he is and the way he appears to others, even though it may be a mask. An online persona is simply an extension of that. It's a one-stop-shop for everything relating to an individual, be it to do with their career, their interests, their personal life - only as much or as little as they wish to share. The benefits to that individual however, are that opportunities are able to find them - if I am looking for others interested in hang-gliding, then searches that pull up others' profiles will enable me to connect, if I so choose
  7. Connectedness is not going away. More and more, the world is about being connected. If you don't want to be connected, perhaps you don't want to be a part of this world - certainly, there are many who don't and who opt out of society with all its ills. However, not being connected doesn't stop those ills, it merely shields you from knowing about them. Modern man and woman are living in a very different place from that inhabited by their parents or grandparents and it is a place that is full of opportunity and experience. The world is opened up to us by connectivity and that brings with it the wonders of the world and, yes, the bad things too. Are we strong enough to deal with that ... and ultimately, to care?

So does all this mean we should always be connected? Arianna Huffington felt the benefit of a week mostly unconnected. She found it easier being out of her natural context and it broke her habits of constant communication that may have impeded her enjoyment of her holiday. Yes, she definitely went "cold turkey" for a while, but then enjoyed the liberation that locking her phone in the hotel safe gave her.

Like all things, it's about proportionality. This particular Nick Evans (for there are many) believes that on balance, being constantly connected is a great benefit for the human race that inhabits the modern world. But, what do you think?

Nick Evans from ExtraMile

At ExtraMile we try to take an hour out each week to look around us at what others do and to gain inspiration and to admire people's creativity. Each post in this series is one staff member's take on the world of web, design and things online. We hope you enjoy it.

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