Commentary

On The Web: Living In The Now

A flowing stream.

hide caption Salmon Stream in British Columbia, Canada.

ru_24_real via flickr

I've been reading a whole lot about how the Web has finally evolved from a page-based medium, something modeled on old technology like printed books and newspapers, to this idea of a "stream."

Eric Schonfeld over at TechCrunch writes about the mechanics of it. He points to Twitter and Facebook's news feed as examples of how the Web is now a real-time, living creature as opposed to "periodic musings."

In his estimation, these feeds have become a sort of global consciousness.

But I was especially interested in Nova Spivack's quick assessment on how this new "era of the stream" can change our sense of time and probably already has.

He writes:

The transition from a slow Web to a fast-moving Stream is happening quickly. And as this happens we are shifting our attention from the past to the present, and our "now" is getting shorter.
...
The era of the Web was mostly about the past — pages that were published months, weeks, days or at least hours before we looked for them. Search engines indexed the past for us to make it accessible: On the Web we are all used to searching Google and then looking at pages from the recent past and even farther back in the past. But in the era of the Stream, everything is shifting to the present — we can see new posts as they appear and conversations emerge around them, live, while we watch.

That brings up lots of questions: How every time you dive to swim in this metaphorical stream, you may have missed the brilliant red maple just seconds before that is now upstream, how a furiously moving stream can drown you with too much information.

But the more I thought about it, the more I turned to economics and how our society has already switched tenses: from past, to present, to now.

I think it's fair to say that our intense interest in the now was at least in part to blame for this great recession.

In the near past, in my parents' time, Americans toiled in the now to save enough to buy a house in the future. In the New York Times Magazine this weekend, Edmund Andrews, wrote that his personal financial disaster started when he wanted a house now to make his marriage better, to make his family better — now.

I'm not sure when, but in some ways, Americans have transitioned from a society that worked toward a future, to a society that lives for the now. We watch movies on-demand; we send instant messages across the world; we get news as it happens and there's no use waiting for the six-o'clock newscast or the next day's paper.

Perhaps, this technological evolution of the web is just a mirror of our society. Perhaps it signals a deeper plunge into the immediate.

If so, I ask, in a world of now, how do we get the future right?

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