Sunday, March 10, 2013

Internet Time

Gleick’s (1999) article, though over a decade old, still offers a lot of food for thought. He argued that while speed and connectivity tend to make people feel more efficient, it also makes them busier and overloaded with information. In one passage Gleick compared (networked) communication to an uncongested freeway. The delays that took place between communication in the past, before fax machines and email, more resembled the delays of freeway travel, with red lights and traffic congestion. These delays, he suggested, served as “pauses for thought”. This sentiment is somewhat further elaborated in Gallagher’s (2009) article about living a “focused life”. The accessibility of information is generally meant to help keep us better informed, but in practical terms I’m not sure this happens as often as we think. Gleick mentioned that a lot of websites are so cluttered with information that things like articles, photos, text, and videos are constantly competing for our attention. Many people, he found, do not actually read what is on the internet, but only scan the website or skim for keywords. Networked communication in this respect is offering us loads of information, but we’re not always digging in depth. Damien referenced pancake people in class a few weeks ago to describe individuals who have a shallow understanding about a wide range of topics. It made me wonder if it is because we are too busy to invest the time into fully understanding a topic, or if networked communication has contributed to shortening our attention spans. For example, here is an article from The article is only 16 sentences long. But apparently even that is too much to expect someone to read in its entirety, so they have included “Story Highlights” in the margin.

I predict that in the future even the “highlights” will have highlights of their own. For the informed citizen who only has time to read three words, this article would be something like:

It doesn't always sink in though. I still woke up an hour late this morning.

Gleick, J. (1999). Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything. New York: Random House.


  1. I just spent this past weekend without my cell phone. At the beginning it was so hard because I had the feeling that I was missing something, like reading all the news and keeping updated with some information but then after 2 days I realized that not having cell phone feels really good. I didn't even want to check it at the end. I suppose this happened because I realized how much productive I was and how more focused I was on other activities that really matter most. Therefore, I think accessibility of information can be not that helpful sometimes.

  2. Brent - I think you make some great points about highlights even getting shorter. As much of a joke as it seems, you're right. Twitter puts a cap on our status updates and people are finding increasing unique ways to maximize 140 characters. Also, tumblr is growing as a shortened version of a blog. I'm guilty of "scanning" a story or headlines along with millions of other but think this pancake effect that we spoke about in class could come back to hurt us one day where no one wants to put the time in to learn the background and details of topics which really provides a better understanding overall.