There was an Olympics this year. Black Panther, too. If that surprises you to remember — as it surprises me — that’s because so much else has happened since. (“Everything happens so much,” wrote the Twitter account @horse_ebooks in the summer of 2012, which is as good a motto for these days as any.) Things…


There was an Olympics this year.Black Panther, too. If that surprises you to remember — as it surprises me — that’s because so much else has happened since. (“Everything happens so much,” wrote the Twitter account @horse_ebooks in the summer of 2012, which is as good a motto for these days as any.) Things are speeding up, or at least they seem to be.

That speed has increased, too, in recent years — and that’s no coincidence, given how much the global media landscape has changed over the same period. As a product, the news has never had a faster delivery mechanism: as soon as any significant event happens, anywhere in the world, reports (often unverified) are nearly instantly sent around the planet. Footage too, because the rise of the smartphone — video and audio recorders that have efficient built-in distribution — has turned bystanders into activist news producers. Their scene reportage spreads across the major social platforms with a reliable pattern; Twitter usually breaks the news of an event, while Facebook and Instagram occasionally lag behind (although if an incident is live-streamed, all bets are off).

This is significant, because as Pew found in a recent study, a majority of Americans get their news from social media. Which means that many of us are now seeing a glut of news from around the world faster — and more ubiquitously, because social platforms are also where our friends live — than ever. The firehose is on, and we are drinking from it directly.

But what is it doing to us? I know my perception of time has been totally skewed; something that happened last week has flattened intothings that happened in the past, a category that holds everything from that @horse_ebooks tweet to the screening ofBlack PantherI saw in February in Los Angeles. Flattening current events into a stream means living in a perpetual present, where events are disconnected from their antecedents and where history is counted in minutes and days rather than in months and years. It’s another way the rise of ambient, instant connectivity has warped our perceptions of the world — and indeed, our conception of what the world is. Push notifications have circumscribed the world.

This is also by design. Because social networks are built to maximize engagement, the global news economy — which has again moved to those same platforms — is just another product that boosts time spent online. The churn flattens and packages human lives and human misery into something that’s easy to parse and easy to become apathetic to. Time is different now, and so are we.

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