I was barely seven years old when I found myself sat trying to work out this oblong black toy my mother passed to me, muttering something about avoiding stabbing myself in the eye with the antenna. ‘Motorola’ was imprinted in silver above an olive green screen. Her abandoned phone; or in her words, “I don’t need a portable phone so here, it’s a toy”. After several futile minutes, I decided this Motorola had no place in my imaginary toy land where Beanie Babies ruled under the supremacy of a multicoloured goat I owned. Now imagine that nowadays, living in a digital universe but not requiring another handset – unbelievable! Or is it?
It seems that children are swiftly receiving their first mobile phone as they just tumble out of their nappies. I was 10 years old when I was blessed with the big accessory at the time, a pink flippy Vodafone which I attached a cute charm on from Claire’s Accessories. I only had the numbers of my direct family stored safely in that phone, should I come across trouble and need to contact one of them. Approaching secondary school, I don’t think I used that phone to its full potential, whatever potential it really had (albeit a very addictive game). Fast forward to sitting in a French class in Year 10, the first year of GCSEs. My Samsung phone didn’t have a Facebook app but that didn’t stop me from using my 3G to open up the web version on the Internet. But not too regular. God forbid you opened that Internet button accidentally and had to force it to close, freaking out you’re going to cost your parents a heap of money. Now, at 20 years old, I have both a work phone and a personal one. They’re both iPhones, and are portals to other worlds. I wake up to use one phone to practise speaking Spanish, do some brain training, check the Guardian, my social networks, and use the other to check my work emails. But then sometimes I accidentally find myself sitting in bed scrolling through an infinite Twitter feed, almost as if it is an innate action I cannot control.
Internet addiction is real, and it’s targeting the young and impressionable. We constantly have an active online presence through our social sphere. It’s deteriorating and dangerous. We are perceived by who we are virtually. Brag about your personal possessions through a simple Instagram upload, paint yourself as an outgoing person by Snapchatting a social event, or maybe check-in on Facebook at numerous restaurants in London to illustrate how much of a food connoisseur you are. These actions are quick and indirectly say editable things about yourself. Don’t want to be seen as boring? Just don’t tweet about the endless revision for your exam next week – nobody will know a thing! Am I a hypocrite for slamming down virtual actions when here I am, writing a blog? Yes and no.Without the internet, I couldn’t be refining my lingual abilities each morning. I couldn’t follow current events just by clicking on an app. I write online to educate, not out of some carnal desire. But that’s not to say I couldn’t do these things otherwise. The advancement of technology has simply made the world accessible. No longer can you interact with some form of life over just an imaginary game in your head while stranded in a desert, just cross your fingers that the Sahara gets WiFi coverage. Before smartphones were a thing, I would watch the 6pm news during dinner with my parents to learn about the worldwide atrocities and political escapades, and learn French and Spanish through school, books, a dictionary, and the occasional Google translate which may have landed me in trouble one time. I even wrote countless stories in old exercise books, pretending I was J.K. Rowling’s apprentice for my eyes only.
Smartphones give the impression that we are more intelligent beings than previous generations. Really, technology has allowed us to feel smart. We ‘feel’ smart because on the news we see reports about smart tissue engineering curing diseases, which may have initially begun with a human, organic idea, but developed into putting that idea into technology. Maybe a human genius orchestrated the operational side of how an aircraft would work, but what we marvel at is how impressive airplanes are – not how clever the people behind all these ideas are and were. What came first, human intelligence or technological ease? However, you move away from these astounding scientific developments into biased social media, aforementioned. While Twitter has educated me about 140-character news bites, it has also gathered the momentum for viral memes and vines, whether of cats or Drake. Is this utterly stupid or purely part of millennial culture? The power of social media is how frightening something you can put online can go worldwide. A slip of the finger and you create an irreversible action. I can try all I might to delete my abbreviated Facebook statuses from sitting in that GCSE French class, but my words are imprinted forever online. This has the effect of creating a permanent, indestructible archive of words, feelings, and events. Great for all of those news stories, but not so much for those recently dumped and are posting emotional selfies of them crying on Facebook.
So if your whole virtual life is readily available, is it safe? Is it your personal information? Who can see and use it? Once you upload a photo of your poached eggs and avocado to Instagram, it does not belong to the big Insta-dogs, fortunately. But this isn’t the same for other sites like Facebook, so be mindful where you’re posting your photos if you want to claim ownership of those aesthetic eggs.With Facebook, your photos become their property, so they can do a limited amount with it. If you have an issue with this, you probably should have read those Ts and Cs when you signed up for an account. This is where Intellectual Property is integral. Say you’re a budding graphic designer, and have just uploaded an excellent picture of Tom Hardy drawing to Facebook, you’re most likely going to get some likes and comments from mates and your aunt (or maybe some of those irritating ‘love hearts’ that are now a thing on Facebook). But, what if somebody saves your photo and reposts this as their own? Well, basic copyright protects work like this so your still, unblinking Hardy will forever be yours. Facebook does recognise and take action against those pesky impostor accounts which might be using your work or even your selfies to Catfish other people, just by simply allowing you to Report these profiles. Just recently it was revealed that a brother posted revenge porn on an American website with asking prices for strangers to bargain how much they wanted to do obscene acts to her. The law around revenge porn is a prime example of an issue caused by social media and the law shifting to a changing environment.
But take LinkedIn, a brilliant amalgamation of seeming professional with basic social network behaviour. Often enough, this is how recruiters seek out new joiners to a company. This is when you need to think about your virtual archive and keep your personal life off LinkedIn – it really isn’t the place, guys. Even better, keep your personal social networks private. For me, it was difficult making my Twitter private as I get a pang of recognition and appraisal when my tweets get retweeted (typical millennial me). Despite my inaccessible Twitter (unless I accept your follow request), I will make the effort to talk about my interests and passions rather than idiotic things I’ve said and done. Perhaps this is my transformation into my bleak twenties.
Ultimately, your virtual behaviour isn’t going to shape you as a person, unless you’re a fangirl and the friends you meet online have brought the best/worst out of you. But, your persona is going to be altered by your online appearance. Although the Internet was still in its teething stages during my time at school, I can only anticipate now that it is mandatory to teach kids about the dangers of smartphones. The Internet is a lot darker than I’ve made out. It’s where paedophiles, terrorists, fraudsters and trolls lurk, purely because what they want is so accessible online. These evil people still exist in the real world, much like a lot of things you get pleasure out of online (not a euphemism). When I think back to my mother chucking her Motorola to me as a toy, I don’t know if she’d do the same today with her Samsung Galaxy phone or tablet. For her, Netflix has replaced BlockBuster, and eBay has replaced pawn shops. We can mourn the loss of Woolworths but remember that now we have sites like Amazon. And nobody’s complaining about Asos, right? We may have lost jobs and revenue through liquidated companies, but were regained through the power of the Internet. Customer service is not only by phone now, but through a chat box on the website. We have more available skillsets creating real occupations, like technicians, engineers, those guys down IT. Thanks, technology. Right now we’re seeing the revolution of the Internet Of Things, which is bringing about smart-homes, driverless cars, and maybe even something from Google you insert into your eye to cure poor eyesight (I think I’ll stick with my glasses).
My key message is that we cannot be ignorant to the qualms of technology and the Internet. We should be very fortunate that we are living at this exact time in the Earth’s lifespan that the Internet is becoming an abundant tool stretching into all parts of our lives. To be honest, I am pretty gutted that kids nowadays aren’t using Bebo and MySpace as a rite of passage into downloading Snapchat. I guess babies now using iPads as toys is the new thing which I still don’t agree with, but hey, my Grandad downloaded Snapchat to show me pictures of his garden, and I’m not pestering him to get on Facebook.