Another afternoon of high-volume Pendulum and high-caffeine brain, blazing through work on one screen while flicking my attention over two others. Two news pages and four Twitter lists are open, poised. They all refresh automatically, but each time my eyes focus on them I reach for the manual refresh button purely on instinct.
It’s a constant stream of news that’s in real terms utterly useless to me. I’ve never been to Egypt and I don’t know anyone there. I don’t know a lot about Mubarak’s regime or any of the alternatives. In a world without the internet, maybe I’d buy a paper tomorrow and read about it with mild interest. But the internet itself, and the real-time access it brings, can elevate any topic to the point of obsession.
Something big is going down in a country thousands of miles away, in a country where everyone’s phones are offline, internet access has been cut, and news agencies’ cameras have been conviscated. But still the news comes. Phone calls translated into tweets, live blogs pushed byte by byte over satellite modems, handheld camcorders standing in for the lost news cameras.
The immediacy of it, the raw transport of information from reality to text and video, the process itself kicks off a little spark of adrenaline, inducing a stress response, refresh, refresh, refresh until the source stops broadcasting, then find a new one. Never stop. Disconnection is death.
The white-hot pulse of news flashes upwards from Tahrir Square out to low-earth orbit, back to the surface, across millions of spiderweb miles of cable and straight into my forebrain.
The real world feels so slow sometimes. It can be minutes between tweets.
It’s a continent away and it doesn’t affect my life at all. But I don’t want to be a day late reading the news – I don’t want to be 30 seconds late.
Each day I carry around a plethora of devices that let me avoid that horrible lateness; allow me to find the pulse from wherever in the world it starts and catch it before it’s had a minute to grow cold. One day, we will be able to catch that pulse and ride it with a mere thought – and for me, that day can’t come soon enough.