Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Tyranny of the Immediacy of Now

I was traipsing through the NYT Magazine's best ideas of the year edition and happened on  "The 2000s were a great decade." It's a desultory oxide of a rust-gathering irony that an article designed to elevate perspective-gathering contradicts its own sense-making. The 00s? The uh-ohs? What opinion are we rounding off to which decimal place?

Here in world-is-flat matter-of-factness,  the current century is shrink-wrapped  as bite-sized summaries. They're easier to maintain, cheaper to make, and grant us permission to close the books on the nameless decade.

Remember that decade? It begins with a Y2K bridge to the 21st Century and ends in the rear view yearning for some fantasy period -- lost innocence for sure. Was it a lost ... century? Really? What generation is self-important enough to warrant that responsibility? The naming rights are still open bid.

The New York Times Magazine article maintains that the drumbeat of boom-bust recyclables delivers us passenger/audience dwellers within the awareness range of the 24 X 7 squad car dispatchers. The static in our ear buds is tuned to a closed circuit of finites, futilities and fatalisms:

"Two recessions. 9/11. Iraq. Afghanistan. You might think the last decade was among the worst in modern history. But according to the economist Charles Kenny, author of “Getting Better,” a forthcoming book on global development, you’d be wrong."

The passage moves on to echo Mr. Kenny's cheerful aggregates:

* Average worldwide income up 25%
* Cereal production outpaces 3rd world population growth by half
* Mortality rates from measles plummet 60%, from birth, 17%, and so on

The numbers shrug at our self-centered pessimism and smile on our civilizing progress. It's a greater time to be alive than us grousing romantics might concede. Have we overstayed our welcome in the new century? Time to get on texting terms with the social media bureaucracy, right?

But where exactly does human progress part company with personal experience? It may be the time in human history where our own personal histories were severed from an abstraction of greater consequence to our lives. Encouraging factoids be damned. That was the moment we reached constant communications and the false and implicit assumption that "instantaneous" equals "understanding." It's a disservice to human potential and achievement that a reproducible world of zeros and ones can accurately portray and scale the sum of human experience in a pre-digitized form.

(One promising departure from our immediacy fixation is Google's NGram -- a byproduct of Google's literal assault on digitizing all things punctuated. Here in the 2.0-teens it's a little like the 1860s and we're seeing the dinosaurs in the headlights for the first time.)

The passing of the nameless decade is celebrated in the the pages of the current issue of BusinessWeek. A retrospective on the first ten years of  recorded Wikipedia history is a breathless reverie on how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill clocks a Wikipedia entry before the rig inferno burns out. Even this afternoon here comes the health status of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, one ER procedure after the same massacre claims six other victims.

Conversely the fluid and bending fashions of Wikipedia's self-selecting editorial staff skews the importance of group pastimes far beyond their merit as cultural influences:

"Popular cultural looms large. The entry for the game Halo, for example, is significantly longer than the one for the Protestant Reformation." 

This kind of self-identity cuts us off from divinations that run deeper than any religious sect -- let alone gaming application.The tyranny of the immediacy of now there is no longer a grace period or a honeymoon or the requisite down time to take in  the tumult of disruptive events and accord them the proportion, connectedness, and possible redress they deserve.

Thinking on our feet is important for remaining on them. It's our grace under pressure when we refuse to be overcome by events not of our design or intention. But running to a rescue or maintaining serene calm in the most perfect of storms doesn't confer a clear understanding of the chaos we are wrestling with in these volatile and eruptive moments. Likewise our poise does not impart a deeper connection to why these catastrophic cinders rain down on us, no matter how laudable the march or modest the parade.

Faith is a partial answer. Much of this is beyond us. But the missing human ingredient in all of this is the biggest picture. It is the deeper pre-digitized history that places us in the historical context that we once called our calling or destiny. This biggest picture shows us that our own blood is no bloodier, our own adversities are no mightier, and our own bruised hopes are no less romantic than our forebears.

This is the slow resolve of wondering off the network reservation and letting in the days. These are the days that we share freely with our predecessors and the unborn. The limits to the biggest picture are not measured in lifetimes or pixels but in the ancestral community of living memories.

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attentionSpin is a consulting practice formed in 1990 to create, automate and apply a universal scoring system (“The Biggest Picture”) to brands, celebrities, events and policy issues in the public eye. In the Biggest Picture, attentionSpin applies the principles of market research to the process of media analytics to score the volume and nature of media coverage. The explanatory power of this research model: 1. Allows practitioners to understand the requirements for managing the quality of attention they receive 2. Shows influencers the level of authority they hold in forums where companies, office-seekers, celebrities and experts sell their visions, opinions and skills 3. Creates meaningful standards for measuring the success and failure of campaigns and their connection to marketable assets.