Unplugged and isolated in the new digital age

By November 1, 2010Uncategorized

Recently, hundreds of students took part in a global experiment, Unplugged, to see how people react to living without TV, radio, the internet or mobile phones for 24 hours.

First results suggest that some had the same symptoms of withdrawal that are experienced as drug addicts or alcoholics. Many felt unconnected, isolated and cast adrift. But if us oldies had to do the same, would we feel any different?

Only 10 years ago, I remember sitting in meetings where people tried to explain that, in future, “content would be delivered across multi-platforms”. Only now do I understand the significance of what they meant – we can be connected to information, entertainment and friends 24/7, wherever we are and no matter what time of day, if we choose. And more and more of us do, irrespective of age. 

I may use less tools than others – for example, I steadfastly refuse to have a laptop because they are too fiddly (that’s my age showing). But I use the internet and email on PCs (work and home) and iPad, while I text on my phone. I watch the news on the internet and have Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, but draw the line at Twitter. Nowadays, if I am at a loose end, I’d rather mooch around online than watch TV. 

I admit I probably fall into the category of phone addiction. If I don’t get a text or call for a few hours, I check the phone to see if I have missed something. All my contacts are saved on my phone and I also keep my full diary there too. (It is on 24 hours a day as I also use it as an alarm clock.) I admit to frissons of panic if I can’t immediately lay my hands on it and there are rumours that my Blackberry and I will need to be surgically separated come the day I get an upgrade…

But my real fear in all of this debate doesn’t focus on the outcome of the Unplugged experiment the students took part in. They got their technology back after 24 hours.  It’s for the people who already live without those things because they can’t afford to access them. 

Initiatives to persuade unsure people to go online are all good and well – but what are we doing to help those who are excluded because of cost? How many of them feel isolated and unconnected because they can’t join in with the technological revolution that the rest of us take for granted? Worse still, are we creating another class of people – those who lack power because they lack access to  information?

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Jacqui Low is Managing Director of Indigo. With a career spanning over 25 years in media relations and public affairs, she specialises in crisis PR. Prior to establishing Indigo, Jacqui was a Special Adviser, the first woman to do the job in Scotland.