Our appetite for information has been steadily increasing over the past decade. And with 5G networks launching in cities around the United States, the buffet is officially open. Just like eating our favorite foods, consuming information can be a very pleasurable experience. Netflix shows provide us with laughter, intriguing worlds, and characters to fall in love with. Reading news from around the world helps us feel more connected as a global community. Social networking allows us to keep in touch with people we haven’t seen in years. 5G will make these experiences even more accessible and immediate.
When I worked as a network engineer at a major wireless carrier, I got to experience firsthand the preparations that were being made for 5G. While it will take some time before 5G reaches its full potential, this leap in technology will affect anyone with an Internet connection. One of the most appealing and immediately noticeable aspects of 5G will be the vast increase in data speeds thanks to its use of millimeter wave or “mmWave” technology. (Not all 5G will run on mmWave, but all 5G users will experience increased speeds nonetheless.) Because mmWave utilizes higher frequencies and larger bandwidths than 4G, it can send larger amounts of data at faster rates than ever before, although this will only be viable in densely populated environments. Early tests of urban 5G networks are showing download speeds up to 1 Gb per second, which is fast enough to download an entire season of a Netflix show in under a minute! Thanks to 5G, you won’t have to wait for your favorite things.
When we stand before the buffet, the size of the plate is often the only thing that limits how much we consume. And when the plate size increases tenfold, it becomes frighteningly easy to keep piling on the food without considering our appetite or the implications of eating that much. The more convenient data consumption becomes, the less likely it is that we will take a break to reflect on what we’ve just seen or read before moving on to the next piece of information. What will tell us to hit “stop” on the “next episode” countdown? How will we know when X’ing out of a browser is a better suggestion than any of the suggested articles? When will we stop looking at carefully staged and edited pictures of someone else’s life and take a closer look at our own?
Information consumption is not inherently beneficial to our growth as individuals and as a society. Binge-watching every season of a show can be an escape from confronting our responsibilities. Reading every article you can find about conflict in the Middle East may broaden your perspective, but it can also blind you to the plights of your neighbors. Relating to others through a screen diminishes your ability to have intimate conversations with the person sitting across from you.
Ultimately, watching more Netflix or reading more thought pieces will not make us happier. The hunger that drives us is not satisfied by mere consumption, but by the reflective and fruitful use of what we consume. If we are to make the most of 5G’s capacity for faster access to data, we need to make sure we make the most of the data we consume. When you watch Netflix, ask what the creators are trying to tell you. Consider how a news piece affects you and how you respond to it. Remember that social media will never give us the full picture of ourselves or anyone else. Approaching data with a discerning mind and using it effectively will be crucial if we are to avoid growing sick at the 5G buffet.
The capabilities of 5G go far beyond faster data speeds, and much of it deserves an examination before we dive into the future it offers. In my next article, I will look at how the development of smart cities will use massive amounts of data and the Internet of things to create a whole new world of possibilities.