A Brief History of Our Digital Society

Connecting, Consuming and Living Online

Rachel Drinkwater @REDrinkwater
Friday 11 March 2016 18:10GMT

DigiSociety_smallThe sun is shining alluringly outside and I’m sitting at my desk, writing. Amongst the debris on my desk; a sketched wireframe of this blog site, my coffee cup, my water bottle, some erasable pens and a paperback copy of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows, sit my personal and work mobile phones (a Samsung S4 and Apple iPhone respectively), my android tablet and the laptop computer I’m writing on. In the time it has taken me to write this, I have received two Facebook notifications, my tablet has chirruped the arrival of an email and I’ve picked my phone up and checked it twice, you know, just in case.

Society has moved on a lot since the 1990s, when the restrictions on commercial usage of the internet were lifted and internet infrastructure became privatised. Since then, costs of processing power, bandwidth and storage have continued to reduce (known as ‘Moore’s Law’), increasing the affordability and availability of the internet and associated technologies. Around 2004 Web 2.0 changed things again, shifting the internet from being primarily an information source, to being an online marketplace and social meeting place. Online communities sprang up, traditional media such as music, books, magazines, films and TV shows became available in digital formats online and everyday ‘net users had access to the tools and access to not only consume the content on the internet, but also to create, collaborate, share and distribute.

Around the same time, technology companies, such as Apple, Microsoft and Amazon started marketing portable media devices. Using a similar product model to that employed by mobile phone manufacturers in the late 90s and early 00s, devices were released to market, then superseded by lighter, smaller and higher-spec devices a couple of years later, encouraging consumers to ‘upgrade’, extending the product lifecycles of these devices indefinitely. Before long, MP3 players enabled consumers to carry their entire music collection around with them whilst eBook readers made a portable library possible. The next chapter in the story has come in the last few years, with the increased popularity of online streaming and subscription services such as Spotify, Netflix and YouTube and a move away from media ownership. With the introduction of services such as Spotify’s ‘Offline’ mode and more and more bars, restaurants, cafes and shops offering free Wifi as standard, the transition to anytime, anywhere media consumption is complete.

In the café where I sometimes write, I’m surrounded by people interacting with technology. People tapping away on laptops, occasionally breaking away from their musings to check their phones, which are often on the table next to them. Others reading, scrolling, updatingTechSociety_small on their mobiles or tablet devices; communicating on social media, checking the latest news, shopping, reading an eBook, listening to a music playlist, watching a movie; the list is long. In the chain noodle bar around the corner, customers can pay for their meal using the restaurant’s app, then post on social media where they’ve eaten and who with. We live in a digital world, where the lines between the online world and the real world have blurred and individuals are increasingly dependent on the internet, digital content and their digital devices for work, entertainment, knowledge and social connections


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