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Living a digital life in a physical world

It's been a decade since smartphones became a part of many people's daily lifestyle. As technology has advanced, at what seems to be exponential speed, smartphones now include multiple cameras with an ever increasing sensor quality, augmented reality apps and games, and a multitude of methods to communicate with each other. Many apps available have led to the endless customization of photos, and social networks have proliferated this multimedia across the globe in a matter of hundreds of milliseconds, to people who may or may not know the creator personally.

Smartphones are not the first to enable this sharing. Digital cameras offered a slower way of sharing. One would spend the day taking photos, return home and download them to a desktop computer, review and then upload to a social media site like MySpace or your personal GeoCities website (ah, the good memories). It wasn't immediate or as accessible as it is today.

Walking down the street this week on New Year's eve in San Francisco, reflecting on my year as the clock ticked closer and closer to midnight, I began thinking about how technology has played part in it. While everyone was waiting for the fireworks show over the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, I observed how technology has infiltrated our physical lives and seemingly transported us into a digital universe that somehow parallels each other in a strange paradox.

So, I came up with a list of five things this technology has enabled, that I observed just standing in the middle of the street, wondering to myself what the future holds for 2019 and beyond.


Texting isn't new by any means. However, it feels like more and more people are texting as they walk down the street, clueless to their surroundings. The immediacy of the text message leads to a sense of urgency, so it's no surprise people feel a need to respond immediately instead of when they get to their destination and have a moment to respond.

Ah, don't forget those emojis! Emojis are the quick way to convey responses without having to arduously type out that message. ;-) And with more than 2800 emojis now available, you're no longer limited to that yellow smiley face that is so twentieth century.


As midnight approached, people livestreamed video of what they saw over the internet to others not physically with them. Live streaming brings friends and family with you and can share in the moment when they would otherwise not be able to.

Have you ever observed someone live streaming? It's common to see the streamer with their smartphone pointing aimlessly and chatting, no longer present in the physical world. Woe the viewer on the other end if they suffer from motion sickness.

Remember back when people used to use bluetooth headsets and you couldn't figure out if they were talking to you?


When the clock struck midnight, fireworks welcomed in the new year. Of course, people pulled out their smartphones to capture pictures and videos of them and the fireworks to share on social media.

Not surprisingly, many stared into the bright screens on their smartphones instead of enjoying the moment in person. They were really nice fireworks, by the way! And what did they do with their cars? Stopped them in the middle of the Embarcadero. Apparently traffic laws are paused when time warps into a new year?

And for those courteous passersby, it's a challenge not to walk right in front of someone taking a group photo from ten feet away, temporarily completely blocking sidewalks in the process. Again, courtesy seems to be a one-sided thing in this universe.


On the train back home, a passenger was using a smartphone to watch videos they had captured from the fireworks show, preparing their posts to social media. It isn't uncommon to hear someone playing videos or music without headphones these days, oblivious to being a disturbance to others.

It's okay, I'll put in my headphones so I won't disturb you! Sorry about that!

Driving and navigating

GPS and maps have become so commonplace in smartphones, especially in ride-sharing apps, that we literally lose track of where we are. Drivers are so distracted with what's on the screen, they don't pay attention to what's outside of the car.

As a pedestrian, it's at least several times a day, if not more often, that a car will not legally yield right of way in the crosswalk. You guessed it, there's often a bright screen illuminating the driver's face as they navigate pass me.

It used to be that a stop sign in California was nothing more than a suggestion that a driver should consider something crossing their path.

What have you seen?

There are plenty more things that I could list, but it's time to sign off technology for now and go read a book, like the good old days. I'm interested in what you've seen of this new universe and how it is living life among digital avatars in a physical world.

Top comments (2)

iamjoross profile image
Jose Ross Barredo

This makes a great editorial! But one thing that surely changed one aspect of the physical world is how education has been digitally transformed and also how the digital world makes it easier to connect with peers