Remember the title of that play “Stop the World, I Want to Get Off”? Sorry folks, its too late. The Internet has made our planet spin too fast. If you let go, you’re a dead duck and if you manage to hold on you never know where you are.
The days of leisurely contemplating and observing our world through the morning and evening newspapers is long gone. Even the broadcast media, at their fastest cannot keep up.
It is only on the Internet that we can be, for a nanosecond, slightly ahead of what is coming next. Turn away for a nanosecond and we are behind. That is the true definition of spin.
I am talking about what is commonly known as “news”, which means new information. News happens all the time. It is pervasive and ubiquitous. It has always been thus.
Once it was doled out through the strainer of agencies like newspapers, wire services, broadcast and other media who employed a vast network of truth checkers. Soon no one will be checking. Few are checking now. All strainers are being junked. There is no time. Attention must be squeezed into the nanosecond. Can the human brain move that fast? One wonders.
If I’ve lost you, try below.
Something momentous occurs on the planet, Antarctica, Saigon, Baghdad, Cleveland, Washington, wherever. It is instantly reported by somebody somewhere. It travels around the world in nanoseconds. It sets off an avalanche of opinions, analysis, by a vast army, uncounted millions, who crowd the blogosphere and social networking sites convinced that others are entitled to their opinions.
But before they can finish typing the first letter of their blogs and postings another event occurs, travels at warp speed around the world, making their thoughts instantly obsolete. The mortality of their opinions is instant. A happening is barely a blink.
The accuracy of this fast moving information is impossible to assess as to its truth or validity. There is no longer any mechanism to find out. Only opinions, conjecture, and words, words, words spinning relentlessly.
A case in point.
Swine flu. It is a new strain. Someone on the Internet says it has jumped from pigs to humans. Someone suggests pandemic. Someone blogs about the 1918 flu which killed millions. The Internet is flooded with opinions, suggestions, and dire predictions. A Vice-President warns people not to take public transportation. People become uneasy, frightened, demand government intervention. Governments intervene. It may or may not be the right thing to do. I am not taking sides, since I am also uneasy. The point I am making is that the speed of the information comes in nanoseconds.
Hard on its heels is other news. The Chrysler bankruptcy and its implications, the dire news from Afghanistan, the economy, a supreme court justice resigns, a senator changes parties, the Taliban threat in Pakistan, the crisis in Darfur, the crisis in Sri Lanka, the nuclear threat from North Korea and Iran, bombings in Baghdad, and ever onward. All these events are followed by battalions of bloggers, squadrons from the Huffington Post, (huffing and puffing) from Politico, from the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and its ancillary opiners, and the twitterers and their related herd, millions of them, pontificating, arguing, hating, insulting, approving.
Tell me you know who to believe and I’ll call you a liar. No one knows. Few, if any have checked. Gossip rules. Rumors swirl. Many insist they know for sure. We are all buried under an ever-growing mountain of bullshit.
Things happen so fast, that one can barely remember what has gone before. And even if the bloggers, the posters, the talking heads, the politicians, the pundits, anyone who who is plugged into the Internet, of every age, sex, race, religion or whatnot is shouting his or her words on the fast spinning planet, they will all be quickly deleted and everyone will begin again, shoveling you know what against the tide.
Indeed, we are living in a totally new paradigm. Master that perpetually spinning paradigm for your own personal ends and you are a genius.
The best example of this genius is our President Barack Obama. I mean no disrespect. I am in awe of his achievement. He is the essence of the truly successful modern man. Nor is this in any way a political judgment. Whatever he advocates is irrelevant to his navigational skills.
In his two memoirs, he has envisioned himself. With extraordinary talent, he created the way he wanted to be perceived. Comfortable with his natural gifts for charm and oratory, his story and his natural persona, he found his niche and with astonishing speed convinced people that he had the right skills and intellectual muscle, the best tone, the greatest story, to become the man he had envisioned himself. His timing was pristine. He had found the perfect moment.
He pushed all the right levers. He understood the essence of the Internet and its touchstone, the next new thing. He embodied it.
Think of this. With the exception of his two extraordinary books, he wrote nothing more of note. He didn’t have to. We knew little about him except what he told us. Aside from that he had no record to speak of, no other writing, no long career in politics, no foreign experience.
His life story as he has told it is an anomaly. It touches every experience that social scientists point to as the prime cause for failure in life. Despite his white mother, he is perceived as racially black. He comes from a broken home. His father abandoned him when he was an infant. His mother died early in his life. He was raised by grandparents. His name suggests foreignness. Such a background is common in the impoverished population.
He is absolutely correct as recorded in the new book by the majority leader of the Senate Harry Reid who quotes Obama as saying. “I have a gift.” Indeed, above all else, he has the gift of self-awareness and believes in his soul that he is worthy of his role and qualified to pursue it. Without such confidence nothing is achieved. He has single handedly convinced others who he believes he is and has climbed the pinnacle of world politics. It is an extraordinary achievement.
Having found the secret of getting there, he must now discover the secret of staying there. Will the same Internet model work? Can he continue to be the next new thing again and again? Like the rest of us he can’t stop the world. And he can’t get off. Besides I don’t think he wants to do either. He knows how to live in the environment of spin. He is at home.
He is in sync with the vast pool of people who have mastered the relentless spin of the Internet. He knows the secrets of multi-tasking and the limits of attention span. He is addicted to his blackberry. He knows his audience and they know him. They are his people. They are in the multi-millions. Like the Internet, they cross borders. That is why you see vast crowds cheering him overseas.
When you are multi-tasked, agile minded, and have trained yourself to live with spin, you can believe that all things are possible. Hope never runs out. You know that there will always be the next new thing.
In the midst of the primary campaign, I met a journalist who adamantly predicted that Obama would win the presidency. I asked him why he was so dead certain.
“Because Obama is the next new thing,” he told me.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“You’ll see,” he said.
There are those who say that as President he is overexposing himself. No way. He is using the Internet model exactly the right way, presenting himself as new every chance he gets. Before the bloggers can blog one thing he is on to another.
Actually, I believe these multiple burdens and crises afflicting the country and the world, will, in the long run, be a boon to his presidency. He will be able to thrust and parry, act and react, proceed to the next new thing, relentlessly, cautiously, cool and purposefully. The new next thing is the essence of optimism.
As we go forward in time, he will offer the next new thing over and over again. If the next new thing is faulty, there will be yet another next new thing and people will not remember the once new thing because it will be supplanted by the new next new thing.
I’m sure you’re confused. Not the President. He is an expert in the next new thing.
It sure works for him. Will it work for the rest of us?
I hope so.