During my first years on the Web, it was mostly a very effective “document” storage and retrieval system. It did change my relation to space as I was able to access documents on far away computers in seconds. However, the web didn’t fundamentally change my experience of time. The whole process remained totally asynchronous: the author of the document would carefully create his page, upload it to a server, and wait for the search engines to come and index it. The reader would then, weeks or even months later, find it, download it, and read it.
In the age of dial-up, our online time used to have clear edges. Dial-up connection was expensive. Moreover, families with only one line couldn’t use the phone and the internet at the same time. One would connect, do some stuff and then disconnect. Online and offline timelines used to be separate by conscious acts of connections and disconnections, so to speak. The arrival of broadband and unlimited internet access gave one the opportunity to stay online all the time. Computers connect automatically when they are turned on and disconnect only when they are turned off. We do not have the ability to switch timelines consciously and they become intermingled.
Moreover, the “document”-based web described above became richer and faster, with the apparitions of tools such as blog engines, trackbacks, RSS among others. Search engines followed and became quicker at indexing new stuff… Asynchronous interactions tended to become synchronous.
At the beginning of 2009, news started to reach people in real-time. Examples include the announcement of Steve Jobs’ health issues, the U.S Airways Hudson landing, and the Los Angeles White Bentley car chase. Observers focus mostly on how much quicker Twitter uncovered these stories than mainstream media but the real-time web doesn’t only change the way we’re getting our news and react to it. The fabric of time is changing and changes all our interactions with people, organizations and objects. It’s hard to see exactly how our experience of time will change because the real-time web is still young. Courageous and smart early adopters, like Robert Scoble, embrace this evolution and report about the practical problems they encounter and the possible solutions to filter outwhat isn’t bringing value.
In the age of dial-up we used to dive into cyberspace for limited periods of time (even if they were long they were limited by connections and disconnections). With broadband, internet access on mobile devices, new services working in real-time… the distinction between asynchronous and synchronous interactions rapidly blurs as does the distinction between time we spend online and offline. These changes must have had and will continue to have many consequences on our subjective experience of time. If you reflect upon your own life on the internet, can you think of some anecdote or story to illustrate or disprove this?