Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Real-time Web

Jon Swartz's USA Today article "Real-time Web keeps social networkers connected" offers an overview of the Real-Time Web, the supposed follow-up to Web 2.0. It takes merely three paragraphs before the author lobs the money quote, but I'll not make you wait even that long:
"It's always on, and glued to my body, "says [Sara] Wilson, a 26-year old media buyer in San Francisco who has not had a land line since college. "It's like a security blanket." [Incidentally, Swartz cites CDC research suggesting that land-lines will essentially become extinct in 2025.]
Swartz defines the Real-Time Web era as one marked by constant connectivity, abbreviated communication, and a lack of privacy. He then cites Tim O'Reilly's proposal of "web-squared" as a designator for companies that capitalize on the instant/ubiquitous-content era to capture customers.

One result is the rise of social networking games such as Mafia Wars and FarmVille (both owned by the same company, Zynga) that upend the goal of immersive experience, offering instead quick-dips into a virtual community designed to last [prepare for some conceptual confusion] no more than a few moments. [Maybe the key is to pivot from "community" to "society" as the way to interpret this manifestation of public life.]

Swartz lists some impacts of the always-on lifestyle, which include drops in college grades, at least according to an Ohio State study claiming that Facebook-users earn lower GPAs than non-Facebook users. Surely my students would disagree with that claim. So, who's right? Out-of-touch eggheads or perpetually wired hipsters?

I have not reviewed the Ohio State research in this area, but I can imagine that students leaping from assignment to mobile phone-text back to assignment to instant chat back to assignment to the next digital intrusion are less likely to retain knowledge in a deep-structure way.

Indeed, I remember just recently chatting with some of my students about the movie Gandhi, recommending it as a study in non-violence. A number of students, pretty much all in their early twenties, seemed intrigued until discovering the 188-minute running time. "No way," was the general consensus.

I'm not sure today's students could wait so long without dipping into the info stream. Foregoing the more dreadful implications of the forthcoming term, I imagine that a constant stream of stimulus - the beeps and taps and clicks that signify "you're here" (even more than "I'm here") - is too addictive to delay, even for a few hours.

[Catching a typo in my initial draft, I wonder about the distinction between "I'm here" and "I'm hear." Marshall McLuhan would be absolutely catatonic with joy while studying our current age, coining clever terms and posing philosophical conundrums with each new software iteration and hardware upgrade.]

Swartz's article dribbles off at this point, recalling some University of Melbourne research that found workers who go online for personal matters are more productive than those who don't, before concluding - just ending, really - with an update that 14 states have passed laws against texting-while driving.

At this point I checked and rechecked the article. That's it? Nothing to pull this piece together? Just another factoid whose implicit affirmation of the main idea must serve as a kind of peroration? Then I remembered, USA Today has been preparing for the Real-Time Web communication style since before the first web page went live. In many ways, this journalistic style set the tone for the age in which we live.

Read the entire article: Real-time Web keeps social networkers connected

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