Technology is leaping forward in exponentially massive bounds — if you feel like you're scrambling to keep up, you've got plenty of company. There's not a gadget on the market that doesn't aim to make our lives easier, but now we're tangled up in a strange new world. It's a complex web of tweets and roaming charges in which we we hunt for open power outlets with the urgency of our ancestors foraging for their next meal.
We live in an interconnected time with more cutting edge tech at our fingertips than ever. But is it a true golden era or just a digital gilded age?
If you've got a Facebook or a Twitter account, count your blessings that you're not a celebrity or a politician. This is the era of the online gaffe — or worse. One quick-fired mistweet can ignite an unwanted media storm or a full-fledged sex scandal — just look at the cautionary tale of former Representative Anthony Weiner. You might want to delete last night's grumpy Facebook status update, but half of the people you know will likely have seen it before you ever feel a tinge of regret.
Looking for a job? Keep your online presence in mind. You might not be the party animal your personal blog makes you out to be, but your would-be employer could have that information at hand in a matter of seconds, thanks to search engines and background checking services.
Like or not, we're all plugged in these days. Whether you think Facebook is connecting your world or tearing its social fabric to shreds, odds are that you can't avoid it — at least without becoming seriously out of the loop.
2. The end of all-you-can-eat internet
Unfortunately, the days of an all-you-can-eat internet buffet are drawing to an end. We tend to imagine the internet — and our access to it — as an unlimited resource; as long as you can get online, you're all set, right? Wrong.
Mobile carriers and internet service providers (ISPs) are increasingly dictating just how much web you get for your money. Instead of paying monthly for unlimited access to the web, this new model charges for a chunk of bandwidth — even under some so-called "unlimited" plans.
Sending big chunks of data like movies and music over a web connection can add up fast, drying up a monthly data package in no time. To put it in perspective, you could watch about 17 hours of streaming YouTube video on your phone or tablet before bumping up against a monthly 2GB data ceiling — and streaming Netflix in HD will chew through that even faster.
Keep an eye on your bill and stay informed about data caps; you might not even know you've hit the ceiling before you're paying through the nose.
3. Battery life woes
Our gadgets grow more powerful by the day, but at a price — and not just one that will hit you square in the wallet. Whether you've got an iPad, a laptop, or a smartphone, you're likely giving it a technological workout that would have been unimaginable only a few short years ago.
Just like streaming a music video sucks down more bandwidth than sending a tweet, it also consumes more of your battery's charge. Some portable computing devices, like the iPad and many netbooks are built to go the distance, but most laptops will putter out after a couple of hours away from an outlet.
Poor battery life is also a criticism frequently leveled at powerful new smartphones. While a Motorola Razr from 2006 could stay charged for 16 days worth of standby time, 2010's popular HTC Evo 4G can keeping kicking for 6. Even the famously battery-efficient iPhone 4 tops out at about 12. Until battery life can catch up to sheer power, we'll be keeping our eyes peeled for the next spot to charge up.
And the uneven experience of many new gadgets doesn't stop there: in a phenomenon that a recent Time article aptly calls "beta culture," manufacturers rush out half-finished products left and right just to keep pace with industry trailblazers (namely, Apple).
4. Head in the clouds
Cloud computing is the next big thing. In fact, between virtual storage lockers and computers built specifically not to store your data locally, the future is now. In the past, a massive external hard drive was the best bet for keeping your computer's treasure trove of files backed up and accessible, but these days storing it on the web (or 'in the cloud') can give you access your photos, music, and videos wherever you go.
While we're big proponents of cloud storage, no method is fail-proof. Storing your data in the cloud is letting it out of your grasp, and placing it directly in the hands of a company you trust. If the service flickers or goes offline — like Amazon's 4 day-long server outage this April — you'll be up a creek without your data.
That's assuming the idea of stashing your personal information in a virtual lockbox on the web doesn't have you unnerved — especially in light of this year's rash of high-profile hacks, staying secure on the web is more important than ever.
5. Are apps making us dumb?
Before the word 'app' became a fixture of our collective vocabulary, the internet was wide open — for better or worse. The advent of the iPhone changed the way we think about the web, and apps continue to explode onto the scene, parceling the internet out to us in small servings — often for a price. Sure you could check the weather for free on the web — or you could pay 99 cents to have it packaged and delivered to your virtual doorstep.
Rather than shuffling through the internet at large to find what we need, we can sit back and let it be served to us, one small square icon at a time. Naturally, that can demand a bit of a sacrifice: With someone else behind the wheel, freedom takes a backseat. And that freedom — the spirit of tinkering and experimentation — is what brought technology this far to begin with.
Whether you're an enthusiastic gadget worshipper or a reluctant technophobe, technology's footprint on our lives is bigger than ever before — and broadening every day. As we stride forward toward our uncertain (but certainly high tech) future, glancing back to take stock of what we're leaving behind probably isn't such a bad idea.
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