In February and March I was in Mexico City for two weeks. I was then in Ireland for ten days in April. In both instances, I realized that I have become completely dependent on the ability to access voice and data networks anywhere and at any time. Why the revelation? Because I didn’t have access to the local mobile phone network in both places. All of a sudden, I didn’t have access to Google Maps on demand. I couldn’t communicate instantly with other people to meet up or change plans. If I saw something interesting, I couldn’t just call up Wikipedia or a web site to find out more. When I didn’t remember to check Yelp beforehand, I had to just guess at the quality of restaurants. It was as if I was suddenly transported to a digital version of the Middle Ages.
It also became apparent how both useful and unhealthy it was to live constantly connected. There was no doubt about the convenience of calling up information wherever I might be. On the other hand, constant checking to see if a place had open Wi-Fi no matter where I was or why I was there can’t be good psychologically or socially. There I was, looking out over the Cliffs of Mohar in western Ireland, one of the great natural wonders of the world, looking for an open Wi-Fi network. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to put away the stupid phone and just enjoy the moment. The fact that I was almost craving email was certainly not a good sign.
This is what we have become in less than fifteen years. We may not be physically jacked in like a protagonist in a Cyberpunk novel but we are psychologically addicted to constant connectivity. We are losing the skills to schedule events, meetup, or navigate a city without a networked device. In the future, losing connectivity will be like losing electricity; We will lack the ability to survive without a network.
It just shows that there is a dark side to the marvelous devices we have created – our reliance on them. Maybe this is what should frighten us the most about AI. We may become so dependent on software, devices, and networks that won’t be able to function without them.