How will web-connected technology change the way we live our lives?
To say web-connected technology is on the rise is like saying Mount Everest is "a bit tall." More and more of us are adopting devices which assume the presence of a reliable internet connection, and it's changing the way we live our lives.
The connected now
Smartphones are a perfect example of this. Mobile handsets now let us download apps, browse the internet, check Facebook, send email and much more, but, aside from calls and sending texts, to make the most of these devices you need to connect them to the internet. In short, the internet is fundamental to their design.
More than half of us now own a smartphone, and that number is rising all the time.
The same goes for tablets like the Amazon Kindle Fire or the iPad - which we are buying in our droves - but are also pretty pointless without an online connection. Without the web, you can't download or use applications, or access many of the tablets standard functions. They're designed to be connected devices, so without that connection, they're essentially the tech equivalent of a Ferrari without wheels - pretty, but rather pointless.
It's not just snazzy new gadgets that demonstrate the growing importance of the online connectivity in our lives. Even something as traditional as television is being moulded into new forms by the internet. TV manufacturers are eagerly pushing "smart" TVs - sets that connect to the internet to download content, from catch up services like BBC iPlayer to whole movies on demand.
Increasingly, these connected devices are becoming connected to each other. Cloud-based services, such as Apple's much vaunted "iCloud", mean that content can be shared seamlessly across all the connected devices you own. You could start reading a book on your smartphone, and pick it up on your desktop computer from the same page you left off, for example.
So clearly, many of us are already living "connected" lives. But in the not too distant future, we are likely to see this taken to a whole other level.
The connected future
This year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) delivered a vision of a totally connected future. Not just entertainment devices like TVs and phones - everything from fridges, to utility meters, to cars.
That's right - cars. Automobile makers like Ford are racing to implement connected technologies into their vehicles. Voice-controlled cloud services, for example, could let you update your Facebook on the go, pick up navigational information, or even book a meal out as you drive. It's not impossible that a car could practically become a high-tech office - one that gives you access to all the services you need from behind the wheel.
But where we'll see the greatest impact of connected technology is in the home. In fact, it may well be the home. Manufacturers are already starting to create connected home appliances - want to use Twitter from the comfort of your own… erm… fridge? Well now you can!
You can expect this connectivity to spread out to other devices too, and when it does, the implications are staggering. If everything in the home is connected to a Wi-Fi connection, you'll be able to manage it all from a single control panel - maybe even a phone or tablet. Imagine being able to pick up a phone to heat up your dinner in the microwave in time for when you get home, and then schedule your favourite TV shows to record. It all sounds wonderfully convenient.
It's speculation of course, but I'm far from the only one thinking this way. Intellect UK, for example, published a Plusnet-sponsored report, investigating some of the features and potential problems of the connected home. It suggested that homeowners will be able to control most aspects of their lives, including education, healthcare, energy management and entertainment, from connected devices.
What does a connected future mean for British broadband?
But not just yet. As lovely as this vision of an ultra-connected world may be to some of us, British broadband isn't ready. That vision of the future requires fast, reliable internet connections, capable of handling the burden of multiple connected devices simultaneously, and for large swathes of the UK, that simply isn't possible.
Urban environments, where cable and superfast broadband are available, might be able to cope with the demand, but there are huge swathes of the country where internet connections are still frustratingly slow, unreliable and, in some cases, non-existent.
The government has pledged £530million to deliver the UK the "best broadband in Europe" by 2015. That investment, and the rise of new technologies such as 4G mobile broadband, might eventually help everyone get decent broadband speeds. But there's a long way to go before the whole country is ready for homes filled with multiple "connected devices" - especially ones that are always on.
But maybe the day will come that it is. Even then though, a connected future isn't free from potential issues. As more and more people start getting content, such as TV, delivered to them through the internet, it gets harder for a provider to cope with the demand. BBC iPlayer alone has been cause service problems for some broadband companies, and when you start piling on more and more devices that are connected to the internet, the strain on the network gets bigger accordingly.
If a connected future is to have any hope, the UK will need a broadband infrastructure that can cope with the additional demand on networks. And that will take time and money.
Everything is connected
Technology is never static - it changes over time according to the needs of the people. The evolution into a connected world is exciting - offering incredible new possibilities for how we live our lives.
We may be some way away from a situation where the whole UK is "always on", but with smart technology - TVs, tablets and phones - we've taken the first steps towards it. And as the UK's broadband improves, those steps will be become powerful strides.