It wasn't that long ago that spending time on a computer was part of a normal day. Now, for many of us, staring at screens IS the normal day. We work on one computer, then go home and veg out on another. We keep in touch with friends on our devices, play games on them, turn to them every time we're bored, and navigate the world with them. Some people are worried that humanity has become far too dependent on its devices. Yet if you think about, it isn't the improvements to computers or phones that changed our habits, but rather the spread of broadband internet.
Fast, reliable broadband internet has changed the way we live our lives dramatically in just a few short decades. Do you remember having to dig around in your junk drawer to find a Chinese food menu? Taking a class or checking a stack of books out of the library every time you wanted to learn a new skill? Driving over to the Blockbuster to rent a video? Printing out reports at school or at work to submit them? Paying bills by mail with a check? Faxing?
Now all of these tasks and plenty of others can be taken care of with just a few clicks or over email, and for better or for worse, we're spending more and more time in the digital world. Here are just some ways broadband internet has changed our lives:
Who Needs a Travel Agent?
Once upon a time, you'd call a travel agent when it was time to plan your vacation. They'd line up your flights, hotels, and excursions - and hopefully get you a better deal than you'd get by booking yourself. Now you can find up and coming travel destinations, get prices for a hundred different hotels, find the cheapest possible flights, and book activities on sites like Expedia, then pay for it all with a click. Going abroad on a budget has become easier than ever, particularly if you're flexible. Traveler who can take off tomorrow can go online and score last-minute deals on hundreds of sites.
Standing Online at the Bank? No Thanks!
There was a time when you could check your balance online and maybe pay a bill on your bank's website, but depositing money still required trekking to the closest branch. Broadband internet has made efficient real time online banking possible, so now those of us who prefer not to chat with a teller can make transfers, payments, and deposits using their phones. People have easy access to their money online, and can even pay in shops with a phone instead of a bank card. You can apply for a mortgage or a car loan right on your device. Need a new debit card? No problem, you can do that online, too.
Hailing a Cab Is Becoming a Thing of the Past
Waiting at the taxi stand, calling to reserve a car, or standing out on the street with your arm out used to be how you'd get a ride if you were stranded or partied a bit too hard. Today, taxi cabs and car services still exist, but there's a good chance you get your rides from a peer-to-peer taxi service like Uber that lets you request a car and then pay for your ride using a device. Many of these ridesharing companies are expanding what they do, which means you can tap them for food delivery, too.
No More Pounding the Pavement
Getting a job may not actually be any easier in the age of broadband internet, because it's still largely about who you know, but it is a lot easier to research what kinds of jobs are out there and to find listings you qualify for both near and far. You can also blanket the web with your resume and hope that the sheer volume of your submissions pays off in the long run.
Children CAN Be Seen and Not Heard
Science has not yet determined how all of this screen time is affecting children, but in the meantime many parents are using apps like PBS Kids and others to get a little peace and quiet. While no one is suggesting that letting toddlers loose online is a good idea, there's something to be said for giving kids a little bit of iPad time when they have to come along on boring errands. You probably fire up your phone first thing when you have to wait online at the DMV, after all. Why shouldn't they?
Do You Even Have a Copy of the Yellow Pages?
If you have young children, try asking them what a phone book looks like… or is. Remember when finding a plumber or electrician meant flipping through the yellow pages? Now you can do more than just find a local service professional and hope for the best. Thanks to various sites and apps, you can read reviews written by former customers of these professionals and choose one that has a reputation for reliability. Or if yours is a small job, you can find a local handyman, explain the job, and negotiate a price in a matter of minutes. And when they're done, you can Venmo them their fee.
Remember Buying an Album? A Physical Album?
Unless you're a connoisseur of vinyl, chances are you haven't bought an album in a long time. And there's a good chance you haven't downloaded music lately, either. The ubiquity of broadband internet has made it possible for companies like Spotify to let users stream music from all over the world. Remember going to the record store because you had a snippet of a song in your head and hoped the salesperson would be able to identify it? Now if you can hum a bar or two, there are apps that will tell you what song you've got stuck in your brain, along with the artist and genre. Then you can buy or stream a copy of it right there in the app!
Run Errands All Day Saturday? Nah!
There was a time when the typical Saturday to-do list would have a person running all over creation to buy this and that, pay bills, hit the bank before it closed, and visit the post office. Many of the errands that once kept us busy on weekends can be accomplished with a click during lunch hour, freeing up precious weekend time for hanging out with friends, spending quality time with family… and streaming movies or playing online games.
You Can Worry Less About Grandma
One group that has benefited quite a bit from broadband internet is senior citizens. Those who are less spry can shop, pay bills, schedule appointments, and keep up with family and friends with a tablet or computer. And active seniors can find activity partners, local events, and day trips online so retirement feels more like young adulthood.
Bar Flies Begone!
Hitting the bar circuit or begging friends to set you up is no longer a necessary part of finding love! Introverts everywhere rejoiced when geo-enabled dating and hookup apps hit the scene, and it was suddenly possible to chat with and schedule dates with local single folks in real time. While you're still going to deal with plenty of duds, you're also going to meet more compatible people, increasing the chances of a good match.
Borders as Barriers? Now You Can Have a Global Village
Geographic distance is no longer a barrier to making friends thanks to broadband internet. Through social media and other means, you can meet and connect with people from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Staying in touch can mean chatting on Facebook, shooting off an email, or spending time together via clear as a bell video chats. And your sphere can be wider in other ways, too, because you can read newspapers, watch films, and listen to music from other countries whenever the mood strikes you. Your perspective is limited only by your curiosity.
Automation Has Made Thoughtful Energy Consumption Easy
Thanks to broadband internet, our thermostats, appliances, and vehicles can learn from us and from one another. Changing our energy consumption habits has historically been tough, but today there are networked gadgets and appliances that will do the hard work for you and set themselves for maximum efficiency. The Nest thermostat was only the beginning! More and more devices that can access information about weather and other conditions, average consumption habits across populations, and your personal or household habits are hitting the market every month. As these are integrated into more new home construction, smarter energy use will eventually become the default.
Personal Time? What Personal Time
There used to be something called work/life balance, and then faster, more reliable internet connections made it possible for the boss to get in touch 24/7. The good news is that if you do your job on a computer, you can probably do it from home sometimes or even all year long. The bad news is that your home life may no longer be your own, you may have to work around the schedules of colleagues all over the world, and your work follows you on vacation. But hey, collaboration is easier than ever thanks to our broadband connections, so most of us are more productive.
It's clear that for all the pros of always-on internet connections, there are some cons, too. Life without it was fine, but we all dealt with lots of minor inconveniences we don't even think about today. Remember having to search for a pay phone? Pull over to ask for directions? Special order a hard to find gift - by fax? But the time we spend online is also creating new issues in our lives. More screen time means less physical activity. The internet, for all its social utility, is also a place where one can isolate oneself. And some studies suggest we're facing so many cognitive distractions hour by hour that we're becoming wholly unable to concentrate on what's important.
How you use broadband internet is up to you. There's no way to predict how it will change our lives in the future, but you can bet that more and more things we do will require that connection!
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