Chinese researchers have apparently nearly reached the point at which Internet connectivity can be achieved by a mere light bulb. 'Li-fi', as it is being referred to in the West at least, would garner enough bandwidth via one light bulb to provide Internet connectivity for four personal computers, according to scientists in the world's second largest economy.
British computing experts have stated that more proof is needed in order to satisfactorily confirm these claims, owing to the fact that there is no video or photographic evidence of the Chinese scientists' achievements. Nevertheless, the technology that is being developed in China moves the planet closer to a future which has long since been envisaged in which every household device, and even products such as tin cans, can be connected to the Internet.
This is scarcely believable or even comprehensible to the average person at present, as is the concept of a light bulb connecting to the worldwide web. But it promises a 'smart' world in which devices literally think for themselves, not behaving autonomously, of course, but modifying their own usage and polarity in order to run in an ideal fashion for those that live in the household.
This is the sort of future that science-fiction has been contemplating for decades. It is redolent of the kind of predictions that were made in the 1950s, the era in which the technological revolution's roots are really based. It was prognosticated back then that this revolution would create a utopia in which labour had been virtually eliminated, household chores were a thing of the past, and people lived an idyllic, technology-aided existence.
This vision may have been influenced by some of the innocence of the age, with the 1950s having been a time of post-Second World War idealism, stability and prosperity, particularly in the United States. Of course, it hasn't happened! But we are now standing on the verge of a society in which technology is completely ubiquitous to such a degree that there are trillions of Internet-enabled devices in the world, outnumbering the world population by a barely comprehensible number.
Do we actually want this? Is this a sensible or desirable path down which to traverse, at least for the majority of people? Technology is a valuable part of our culture and has achieved incredible things that we completely take for granted; of this there is no doubt. But I have to question whether a world in which there are all sorts of smart devices in every conceivable nook and cranny is likely to produce a psychologically healthy population.
Already we have reached the point where people want to be connected to the 'net during every waking moment of their lives seemingly. As a population, we can't go two minutes without checking Twitter or Facebook, not to mention our text messages and voicemail. Smartphones and tablet sales have increased at an astronomical rate in recent years, and this trend is predicted to continue, or even accelerate in the near future.
While there is undoubtedly a positive side to this, at the same time we have already witnessed some extreme reactions to the technocratic society in which we're living. Addictions to virtual worlds offered by games such as World of Warcraft have become incredibly extreme in some cases. Already over 50% of Britons admit to withdrawal symptoms when they're separated from their mobile phone - so-called 'nomophobia'.
And despite the fact that the communication benefits of such technology are always emphasised, evidence would indicate that we're living in an increasingly atomised culture, in which people are often fundamentally unfulfilled. To return to the idealised 1950s, research has indicated that happiness levels have declined consistently since then, while cases of mental illness have increased exponentially in the last 15 years alone. The cause of these trends is complex and multifactorial, but the impression nevertheless persists that our disconnection from one another and connection with an increasingly absorbing virtual world does make a significant contribution.
The writer, Will Self, has already questioned whether a mass Internet failure could trigger a psychic crash of some sort. What are we then to make of the potential for such a crash in a world in which every light bulb is connected to the Internet?