Over-reliance on gadgets exposed

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 April, 2012, 12:00am


The world got by just fine before mobile phones, but when they crash, as happened with SmarTone's network on Monday, users undergo a predictable pattern of emotions. First they are bewildered, then questioning and, when services remain disrupted, angry. Complaints posted on internet forums railed at the firm, one of Hong Kong's largest providers, accusing it of ignoring customers' concerns and causing inconvenience. The feelings are understandable given how much we have come to rely on technology, although they also reveal that some of us have become too attached to our gadgets.

It was the same last year in the US when Apple's voice-activated assistant service Siri went down, and also in Britain with the collapse for three days of the BlackBerry network. The failures prompted outrage from millions of users who had come to regard instant information and connectivity on the move as vital. Indeed, often our embrace of technology is so complete that it seems we cannot do without it. However, failures that last hours readily prove otherwise.

That is no comfort to service-paying customers, of course. They want what their plan advertises and when it does not, have every right to demand an explanation and, if warranted, compensation. SmarTone has come in for a barrage of criticism for its handling of the crash, caused by power failures, and it has to restore confidence. Competition is so fierce that to do otherwise is to add fire to the already bubbling pot of discontent with telecommunications companies among consumers.

But such moments are also an opportunity to consider whether we have become over-reliant on our hand-held and internet-connected devices. Phone landlines are a thing of the past for some and checking e-mail, Facebook and Twitter has become a reflex action for many. When outages occur, what we believe is essential should have a backup. As importantly, though, sometimes it is good to step back from gadgets that studies show are making users impatient, impulsive, forgetful and increasingly, angry.