Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Reload the war!

So today I spent a non-trivial part of my morning monitoring the repair of a majorly blowed up database. I was the guy who found the problem, was the ticket owner for the fix, and was was front-ending all the user notifications and updates. So there was a good "business reason" as we like to say around here for why I was paying so much attention.

Plus, with the thing hosed, I couldn't do the work that I was actually trying to do.

Interestingly, there was a press conference going on at roughly the same time for Mars Phoenix which, despite having apparently discovered rocket fuel instead of life, was still worth paying attention to.

But what this meant was that I was fervently clicking "reload" (or refresh or whatever you prefer to call it) in at least four browser tabs: Unmannedspaceflight.com for Phoenix updates, the Remedy trouble ticket for updates from the DBA's, my email to try to get updates for various personal life threads, and the actual tool that I was trying to use to see if it could hit the databases OK.

Of course, anytime I hit "reload" and nothing had been changed I was quietly furious. Disappointed. Hurt. Resentful of the extreme negligence of the DBA's to not troubleshoot faster, of the people at NASA to not speak faster, of my friends to not write back immediately. Its an artifact of the modern world -- life at the speed of "reload."

People complain that we like our news in soundbite sized segments well suited to the 5:00 news. But I think that it is changing (or has changed) from that. We now expect our news to occur on demand. I get irritated when something happens at 2am -- so I can't watch it live. I get irritated when I wake up and find out that things happened several hours ago and there was all this time that I could have been posessing that knowledge, doing something interesting with it or just plain knowing it, but because those pesky Europeans live back there in Europe I missed the (pick one) Tour de France/Formula One race/ESA press conference/airshow.

But I'm not just craving immediate access to the latest information. I want that information to happen when, well, I'm in the mood for it. Hm, I could use a bit of juicy celebrity gossip...but wait, inconceivable, there's nothing! Hm, I wonder if John McCain has referred to The Ottoman Empire or Austria-Hungary or perhaps chosen to discuss Premier Bush's trip to The Orient...nope, no political gaffes! Things MUST happen! The MUST happen NOW!

And we don't just expect things to happen quickly or to have instant access to them ourselves. We seem to actually expect them to happen when we click on "reload."

I remember watching the invasion of Iraq (the first, fast moving, exciting part) as sort of an exercise in the rate at which CNN.com could update itself. Oh, the Marines are at such-and-such location trying to bridge a river...Reload...why haven't they crossed it yet? I KNOW better. I UNDERSTAND that the world is not actually a giant DVD recorded for my pleasure. I am not Adam Sandler in Click with my own magic web browser able to tell one group of people to stop producing news, just hold on guys, Mars is interesting right now. And then to tell another website to get moving, you've got audiences that demand satisfaction!

The reason I'm so convinced of this systemic change in our culture is that I believe it extends well beyond just news websites. In general, we have an expectation that everyone should be on call all the time -- and that we ourselves must be on call. When the phone rings, we answer it. When the text message arrives, we read it.

I'm not just talking about hipster kids or techno-tools who for social or professional reasons feel that they do have a need to be in touch 24x7. It is a pervasive situation (note that I do not say "problem" -- I'm not trying to pass judgement, just to comment) now. I see it in my friends, my family, and myself. We multitask at work and in our private time, and I often wonder (and here is where I stop saying situation and start saying problem) if this spreads our awareness too thin.

How hard is it, now-a-days, to get true quality time?

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