Living in a digital world: the causes and the consequences

Amelia Gunn
Digital Society
Published in
7 min readMay 3, 2020


What is a digital world? In order to discuss the implications of living in a digital world, it is important to actually clarify what we mean by it. In this day and age, for almost all individuals in developed countries, digital technologies are involved to some extent in most aspects of our lives, even if we are not aware of it. In the majority of cases, these digital technologies have developed out of a desire to make our lives easier, or more efficient. The varied ‘map’ below shows that these devices include common technologies such as a smartphone or computer, but also shows how the digital world encompasses a large range of other products or services such as home security or home automation. Even smart cities are increasingly adopting technologies like Big Data, the Internet of Things and sensors. There is no doubt therefore, that digital technologies probably affect more aspects of our lives than we are aware of…

IoT Market Ecostystem Map by Chris McCann. Available at:

Who is living in a digital world? In a Medium post, Chris explains that there are currently more devices connected to the internet, than there are humans. That number of connected devices is expected to keep growing, ‘In 2017, 27 billion devices were connected using IoT. This number is expected to increase to 125 billion by just 2030’. With that in mind, we should be seriously considering what the implications of the Internet of Things are, for the individuals who are regularly using and relying on these devices.

The Internet of things: good or bad? Well it’s important to start by saying, although the number of connected devices is increasing as they gain popularity, there are still many examples of unsuccessful smart devices. Many of these devices have over time simply become redundant or deemed unnecessary, such as self-tying shoelaces, but some are flawed in a way that is dangerous, such as a smart thermostat that heated a house up to an unbearable temperature when it lost connection to the internet. So what are the consequences of using these digital technologies? Well, apart from the wasted money spent on unsuccessful or unnecessary products, even using ‘successful’ technologies can have implications. These can be positive when they enable you to manage your life more efficiently, but the way in which smart technologies are used in the home, can also lead to much more sinister side effects.

How can our digital connectedness be used against us? As a result of the global population becoming much more digitally connected, most firms have adjusted their marketing strategies accordingly, to maximise their consumer engagement. In the past, where companies would have had to rely on traditional media outlets such as radio and print in order to attract customers and build a reputation for themselves, they can now use the digital world to achieve this instantly. Digital content is seen by significantly more people than traditional media would be, in a much shorter time period, especially when combined with the use of programmatic advertising which could be considered by some, to be exploiting their customers.

As discussed by Maia, who is a fellow writer for the Digital Society publication, programmatic advertising utilizes data to develop algorithms and automate the buying, placement, and optimization of advertising. These technologies help a firm to target their intended audience much more effectively than ever before. A significant positive consequence of this level of personalisation is convenience. However, in order to achieve this personalisation, individuals must allow access to their data, either though cookies, search history or through forms of surveillance via smart speakers and other connected devices. It is no surprise therefore, that many people find this targeted advertising intrusive, and sometimes even quite creepy. As seen below in this poll of the 2020 digital society cohort, the way consumers feel about this kind of targeted advertising varies greatly.

Digital Society 2020 Cohort Targeted Advertising Poll. Available at:

Where does the workplace fit into our digital world? In addition to technologies for the home, there are many other techologies transforming other aspects of our lives into a digital one. In some workplaces, people are being made redundant as AI is replacing human capital. There is no doubt that the way AI speeds up tasks and makes the workplace more efficient is advantageous from a business point of view, but the mass unemployment that could arise as result of replacement is certainly controversial.

Photo by Lukas on Unsplash

However, some people, such as the founders of XANA (a medical technology which pairs with an app), claim that the use of AI in their case doesn’t necessarily remove the requirement for real people but simply allows workers to utilise their expertise in a different way. In the case of XANA, the digital technology is enabling medical staff to access their patients’ health data remotely in real time. This means that the doctors can do their jobs of diagnosing disease and assessing the outcome of treatments much more effectively than they could have done previously in a world without the development of these digital AI technologies. These kinds of technological developments could have a very positive effect on life in the digital world but it is still a sensitive subject up for debate.

XANA product advertising. Available at:

So do we need a new set of ethics for a digital world? The replacement of humans with technology is almost always viewed with scepticism to some extent but when there is evidence that proves that AI can outperform doctors, why won’t patients trust it? Is it an issue of ethics? How about businesses using our data to exploit our purchasing patterns, is it immoral? Will there ever be an answer to those questions? With AI and other digital technologies playing such a large part in our lives, isn’t it time we consider to what extent the use of it is ethical? After discussing the implications of living in a digital world, I propose that it is about time that we reconsider what it means to be moral and create a new set of ethics for the internet age.

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

Reflecting: since starting this course how has my thinking about Digital Society changed? At the beginning of this course, I filled out a Future Me letter which I recieved a few days ago. In this letter I discussed what a digital society meant to me…

‘ a society that uses digital methods increasingly in their daily life, ie online communications, calendars and diary syncing, less face to face ‘real people’ contact ‘

Although this belief still holds true, this course has shown me that a digital society is so much more than just these technologies, it affects so many more aspects of our lives than I had previously thought and will continue to do so more significantly as our digital world develops. When many months ago, the future me letter prompted me to consider how I felt about digital society I said that I felt ‘divided’ and I must say that that hasn’t changed. For all the positive implications of technology that I have learned about through this course, I think I have discovered as many negatives if not even more. In addition, I have realised through this course, that as the technologies are becoming more commonplace in our lives, the lines are beginning to blur between the physical world and the digital world, and differentiating between the two is becoming more difficult.

In certain aspects of our lives this is more considerable than others, for example in business activities such as customer services, it can be hard to distinguish between what is human and digital. As I have become aware of this, I have begun to consider where the responsibility for the use of these digital technologies lies. I do think that brands using these technologies have a moral responsibility to make it clear what is human interaction and what is technology. However, in in addition to that, this course has shown me that it is increasingly crucial for digital citizens to be self-aware and take responsibility for their own actions in order to stay safe online.

How have I developed through exploring these themes?

  1. First and foremost, as a consequence of this course and through discovering the idea of digital citizenship, as Obama advocates, I am making an attempt to face challenging new information and connect with people from diverse geographic, cultural, and ideological backgrounds rather than to simply ‘reinforce my own realities’.
  2. Another positive outcome of taking this course has been developing my critical analysis skills. Although at times I have found it challenging, I feel as though the nature of this course has helped me to explore themes in greater depth where previously I was aware of some of these issues at a surface level but hadn’t really considered how I felt about them or formed an opinion. I think that this a really crucial skill which will benefit me in the future.
  3. Last but not least, the combination of this course itself and regularly visiting the Medium website, has opened my eyes up to such a broad range of interdisciplinary blog posts and discussions which I would likely never have discovered otherwise. I hope that the insight that I will take away from this course will continue to supplement my degree programme and life beyond.



Amelia Gunn
Digital Society

International Business, Fiancne and Economics student at the University of Manchester