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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Consider speed

Consider speed.

No – not the drug, and not any movie with Keanu Reeves, and not Nascar – in fact, let me rephrase that.

Consider information speed.

Give it some thought because in the time it has taken you to read this far, an impossible amount of data has passed from your wall, to your computer. And that’s just one person, one computer, in one household. Imagine how much information is washing across state lines, across oceans – across the world.

Once this was termed an “information superhighway,” and Al Gore claimed to have created it. Lucky us. But to call this a “superhighway” any more is an outdated concept. If it was a highway, then it is now the Route 66 of the data world. It has seen its’ glory days of flashy roadside diners, full-service gas stations and funky tourist attractions like the world's biggest ball of yarn, and has long since given way to something infinitely more morally gray. In fact, much more gray than that ancient asphalt of the ’66 in the real world.

And what does that mean?

If you have read this far and believe this article may have nothing for you, I would urge you to read just a little bit further. What I am expressing here takes more than a sound-bite. It is relevant because you are exposed to the product of this idea – and your exposure increases with every passing day. Your children and their children are born into this environment and are being irradiated by it, and you deserve to understand what it is. Exposure in this case, means what it always does – too much is toxic, and will eventually kill you. You deserve to understand the thing you are being exposed to, but the data will not be available for long. The conclusions will eventually become buried and invisible. Big Brother doesn't just use this infrastructure for his own purposes. He seeks to control it - and by extension, control you, your children and grandchildren.

To express the idea, I have to ask you to consider the one thing, which separates us from the ancient world – or even from the last century. Because, folks will point to all manner of things, like global transportation, permeability of ideas across vast sections of the world’s population, global commerce – even global climate change, if you want to climb on that particular crazy train with Big Al.

But the truth, I believe, is that there is only one real difference. I have given seminars on the subject, and believe that while it is a simple idea, within its’ boundaries exists a greater possibility for destruction than any WMD in existence can provide. It is, of course, the transfer of information.

In fact, it’s interesting that the term “data stream” is used. It refers to something fluid to get the point across, and just like standing in a stream, it is impossible to step on the same piece of water, twice. In fact, we are not even standing in the stream now – we are like a leaf on white water, and it is a flood of a magnitude not seen since the animals allegedly all filed “two-by-two” onto the ark.

When the Trojan war occurred, how long did it take for the reports to get out to the world? When Rome fell, how long before the cataclysm made any kind of sense? When Napoleon finally saw his end, how long did it take for that information to be heard and understood in Japan? How long did it take for information on the concentration camps and the Holocaust to reach ears that weren’t NAZIs? How long did it take for events in Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Somalia, to reach the ears of those far removed?

Pick a major event before the advent of the internet, and you will see the pattern. As time has marched on, so has our ability to transmit and receive information. Newspapers and newsmen once travelled the globe – in a matter of weeks or months. Old papers were picked up over and over and re-read (this phenomenon was even given a name – “the shadow audience”), Then there was television, and the data stream went from point of origin to destination in days. Now we have personal computers everywhere on the globe. Look at the top of this blog. At the time of this writing, there are more than 7,000 visits. I’ve only been doing this for a few months, and the readership is increasing exponentially. There are thousands of these blogs – hundreds of thousands. How many folks on social networks? Millions? How many cell phones? How many laptops and desktops and Kindle tablets? How many PDAs?

So, I ask you to consider speed for a moment, because the increasingly caustic rhetoric and the danger of reaching some kind of “flashpoint,” is made more inescapable – more irreversible every day. If we could watch Vietnam from the comforts of our living room and if we could see the fall of the towers in New York, while staring in disbelief from our couches and offices and waiting rooms across the nation and indeed, the world, just imagine what we will see in the future. What does revolution or evolution look like, in a world of information overload?

What happens when this tightly-wound mechanism we are each helping to twist today - a clockwork construction assembled from hate and discord and distrust - meets an information transfer rate that is itself instantaneous?

Because this is really a countdown we are involved in. And like any countdown, there is an event at the end.

What will happen when we reach zero?

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