The internet in 60 seconds

There’s nothing happening around you, except for the ordinary buzz of everyday life. People walk, cars drive past, the wind rustles through the trees and somewhere in the distance, a phone rings. Now imagine if you were transported from this into a storm of activity that overwhelms you – take a look at a graphic that puts together what happens on the web every minute. While it isn’t documented and the sources are not given due attribution, it shows how crowded our ‘information superhighway’ – to quote an early description of the net has become. It’s like imagining a quiet road with intermittent traffic becoming an autobahn where the number of vehicles and the action never ceases.

This post, for example, will be just one of 1500 blog posts created every minute. So the fact that you are here, reading this, is a real privilege as far as I am concerned. Or the fact that you got here in the first place. You have navigated through millions of links to land up here and spend about 4-5 minutes (or however long it takes to go through a 500-word post) on something that you believe is worth your time. Because, by the time you read this, another 7500 fresh posts would have appeared in blogs across the net.

The catch-up game, no matter what you ‘follow’ is well and truly over. In our lifetime, we will have always have access to all the stuff that is being created. Even going by the law of averages where only 1% of all that is created is worth consuming, we would still have no way of seeing all of it. Or even a tiny fraction. And once you factor languages into it, we are talking about consuming only atom sized portions. Because when you look at the other side of the statistics – how many websites do people visit in a day (it’s about 100, for those statistically inclined) you see the utter futility of matching consumption to creation

Maybe I made it a little easy for you to get here. Posted a link on that ‘social terminus’ – Facebook and the career station – Linked In, as well as the world’s personal broadcasting tool – Twitter. But if the graphic were to be believed, there are nearly 700,000 status updates on Facebook every minute and nearly 100,000 tweets. So its easy for my voice to get drowned in the chatter, even if you are part of my ‘personal network’

In a sense, I am happy that all this activity stays within the confines of little screens in your hand or on office desktops and does not spill over into real life. Because the potential for permanent distraction is immense. That is why programs like the ironically named Freedom, which cut off access to the net so that you can get things done, have proliferated. Because of the urge to check your email every five minutes or returning to your Facebook page to see how many comments your smart post or retort got, is immense. There’s more discipline required now to accomplish even the most mundane tasks. And that’s hardly a good thing.


Cars and being single

Can cars ever go out of style? Looking at the glitzy car shows, the endless programs devoted to automobiles or the gushy reviews for new model launches, one would think that it’s all business as usual. Yet, there’s a very clear sense of dread at automotive companies – that a growing number of 18 to 24-year-olds think of cars as nothing more than gas guzzlers and don’t plan on buying a car anytime soon. So GM is turning to the expert purveyors of youth culture, MTV – to understand what will make cars more attractive. What is more worrying is that young people would prefer the internet to the car any day – and that is a definite cause for alarm.

If you’ve noticed, children today rarely look out of the car during a drive. If they have a mobile phone, they are absorbed in it because the screen is a lot more ‘active’ than the scenery that passes by. They aren’t happy to just watch nature unfold its majesty in quiet splendour. They want it in fast forward. So the only thing that retains their attention is a video game or a chat with 10 friends simultaneously. There’s no excitement is watching a cloud drift slowly and guess what it will transform into. So, what’s the point in being stuck behind a wheel for hours to get to a place?

The other change is that the number of people living alone in the US has multiplied over the last decade. Not just those who don’t want to get married but people who prefer it that way. Solitude used to be for a select few. Now, apparently, it is the preferred state of being. People retreat to their internet-addled, video streamed, microwaved lunch and dinner scheduled lives without having to answer or share space with anyone else. And share only on their social networks. They have hundreds of online friends and few in the real world. And if you really see what has changed in the last couple of decades is networking on a global scale. So instead of feeling close to one another with the death of distance in the virtual world, we feel oddly disconnected.

We need the net like a daily fix, if only to hop skip and jump from link to link in an endless voyage of being everywhere and getting nowhere. Our attention spans have dropped to less than 3-4 minutes, the vast majority of us have no patience with books and the more conveniences and material riches we have, the more we crave for. In a less developed and less connected world, we seemed to have the time for making friends and collecting experiences.

Like wine kept for decades and maturing slowly, we grew into our jobs, our successes and our families. Today, it’s about how many shots you can pour down in a single sitting. There’s nothing to savour or linger over. Whatever life has to offer, take greedily and go looking for the next novel experience. Don’t make five friends, make 500. Don’t earn thousands, earn billions. Taking is winning. Giving is losing. And are we still foolish enough to believe that nothing much has changed in our lives?