It's hard to believe that the web as we know it is still a teenager. No other teenager in all of history has had such a massive impact on life. Throughout world history, technology has fostered change in human society but never at such a rapid pace as the changes today. Like a person aging or gaining weight who fails to notice when they look in the mirror each day, society moves blindly forward, oblivious to the changes that are unfolding in it. How can we see just how far reaching the effects are? How can we observe just how far things have progressed? Simple. Strip away the web, one device at a time and see how that simple imaginary task would change the ways that those devices are used. Like a fat man forced to see that his clothes don't fit, if we can't use the devices, we see the changes.
While your first impulse might be to say that the phone and computer would be the only things affected by a lack of connectivity, the truth is that a great number of devices rely on connectivity for functionality. Many of the hottest products on the market today would become worthless without the connectivity that makes them so attractive. What are they? The list is giant. Home computers, office computers, laptops, netbooks, iPads and other tablets, MP3 players, iPhones, Android phones, smart phones of all kinds, GPS devices, Kindles and other e-readers, GPS devices, mapping programs, classified ads such as craigslist, news sites such as CNN, game devices such as the WII and XBOX, and even new additions such as internet televisions. No connectivity and we might as well go back to the devices of the past. While this article will not examine all of the connected devices in society, it will look at those which have the most impact on our daily lives.
Let's start with the most simple. Imagine that your home computer suddenly lost the ability to access the internet. Sure, there are still plenty of interactive programs to use on it, but lets be honest, the vast majority of time spent on home computers is spent writing or answering email, chatting on Facebook, MSN, or Yahoo, making calls using Skype, or simply watching videos on YouTube and browsing the web.
Without the internet, your computer once again becomes a word processor. Not much more than a glorified typewriter. You can play video games, but not interact and frankly, playing on the WII is a better venue than the PC. Your computer would move back to the dusty corner it occupied in the early 1990's and would be used to write, work on spread sheets, and maybe you would still use it to listen to music which would all have to be imported through CDs! No more downloads, no more file sharing, no more researching, and no more viral videos. Not only that, but no more Facebook or email. You would have to sit down and write letters to the people you loved or call them. In fact, you might even prefer to sit and hand write a letter instead of typing it if the instant gratification of email were to disappear. No more World of Warcraft, Yahoo answers, Google search, or Wikipedia. If you want to buy the Encyclopeidia Britannica CD-ROMS though, you might be able to find them in a second hand store.
The truth is that our society has changed so much over the last decade because of the advent of connected technology that like the fat man in the mirror, we are sometimes oblivious to it. Young people have never known what it is like to receive a hand written letter or in some cases to buy a book!
Some sources say that the average western person spends more time online than in being engaged in any other activity!
The amount of time most people use their computers would shrink to something like a few hours a week from a few hours a day. Significant, yes. Suddenly, people would be spending time together (in person) and have to actually move around to experience a change in environment. Odd.
Next let's look at mobile computing devices. Laptops, iPads, and Netbooks. Let's face it, without connectivitiy, most people wouldn't bother to carry their machines around with them. Sales on all three items would plummet. You would have to actually visit a brick and mortar store in order to download movies, music, or books onto your devices. No more email, gaming, browsing , or chatting. Unless you are a writer or a person who uses a significant amount of offline time to begin with, chances are that you wouldn't bother carrying the laptop with you anywhere. Once again all of the uses outlined for the home computer apply here but in a mobile way. Let's face it, we like laptops and other carry around computers because they let us connect. If you took away the connectivity, you would find that most users would choose to leave their machines at home or not to buy them in the first place.
Moving on to the Kindle. Would it make any sense to have a kindle if you had to go to a brick and mortar shop every time you wanted to buy a new book to load on it? Wouldn't most people simply buy the books in the old fashioned print form? The Kindle would be nothing more than a curiosity without connectivity.
In terms of the WII and XBOX, people would still use them, but the interactivity is a significant reason why people upgraded from their old Nintendo 64s.
Now, what about phones? How would usage change if there was no connectivity to you iPhone or Android mobile. You would have to buy new apps from the store. No more web, no more email, no more maps, no more GPS. Would the iPhone have been a success without the connectivity of YouTube, iTunes, and email? Probably not. The phone would once again be a device for talking to people. Sure, you could still play games, listen to music, or use the calculator. The camera would still work, but in today's world, the number two use of phones is email and internet. This would disappear.
Other devices that would suffer from a lack of connectivity are MP3 players and GPS devices. Without connectivity, they become not so incredibly useful any longer. You can't download music or access maps without a connection. Would we go back to vinyl and cassettes? Probably not, but we would certainly see stores like Tower Records reemerge in retail areas.
To sum up, if we were to lose connectivity, the world as we know it would revert back to a sort of 1990's form in which people didn't know as soon as their friends changed their relationship status, music, videos, and games would have to be bought in actual shops, and people would have to spend more time with one another – in person. Now that I think about it, it doesn't sound so bad.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.