In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop, which focused on the stressful nature of blogging. Using our friend Marc Orchant's death and Om Malik's heart attack as examples, Matt Richel built a case for web journalism as the cause of certain health woes because of its non-stop, 24/7 real-time nature. There is no doubt that news blogging is stressful. But it is not just blogging. Real-time anything is stressful. Take TV news, is Anderson Cooper not stressed? Looking broader, what about air traffic controllers or traders on Wall Street? Any human being that has to make decisions in real-time will be under a lot of stress.A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a weekend piece entitled
The problem is much wider than the blogosphere. My wife, who works as a project manager for a large pharmaceutical company, is also under constant pressure. My dad, who at 60 had to switch jobs and became a mechanical engineer for a small company in Pennsylvania is always stressed too. The problem is not with blogging, the problem is with the real-time, as-fast-as-possible approach to things. In this post, we will explore the nature of real-time and argue that for better or worse, it here to stay.
Why Real-Time is Inevitable
Capitalism is about opportunities. Whenever there is a gap, there is an opportunity to bridge it. The classic newspaper business worked like this. People gathered news throughout the day and then once every 24 hours, committed what they had gathered to paper. That was good enough for a long time, but with the emergence of radio and television, and later of blogs and RSS, once per day seems like a joke. Clearly, we demand news more often than once per day. News bloggers in politics, world news, and particularly technology, recognized that the old way of delivering news had a flaw - it was not real-time. They turned the flaw into an opportunity.
Of course, this is not specific to blogging. During the first days of the war with Iraq we saw reporters embedded with the troops. Ridiculous? Perhaps. But it was also quite entertaining, because it was the news in real-time. The competition between the news channels guarantees the rise of real-time reporting. In the endless quest to out-do their competitors, stations have eventually arrived at real-time TV.
And news was not even the first industry to push for real-time. First, there was Wall Street. When I joined Goldman Sachs almost 15 years ago, there was already talk about the real-time clearance of trades. I confess that I am not sure if we are there yet today, but we must be really close. The competetive pressure on Wall Street, unlike any other, drives everything to be faster and faster. The drive for faster is what keeps the brokers and Wall Street technologists up at night.
Why News Blogging is Stressful
News blogging is probably one of the most stressful occupations you can have. First, you have to watch the crazy-fast moving, non-stop tech world all the time. News bloggers have thousands of feeds in their RSS readers. Staying on top of all that is not easy. In addition, you have to write well. It is not just the story, its how you present it that makes a difference. Creativity needs to be present whether you are sick or its rainy or you are simply not in the mood. Every day you need to watch the world and re-invent yourself.
In a way, news blogging is like a mom and pop grocery store in that everyday you have to get up and service people no matter what. The difference, of course, is that blogging is highly intellectual and the pressure to deliver unique and brilliant news creates much more stress than one would have running a grocery store. Mike Arrington is quoted in the New York Times article saying that this kind of pressure is not sustainable. Of course it is not. No human being can process information in real-time indefinitely. We get sick and tired of it.
However, to attribute Marc's death or Om's heart attack to blogging is probably far-fetched. And to speculate that because of these two examples the entire news blogging sector is endangered is far-fetched as well. Tech news bloggers are passionate and energetic and they love what they are doing. Love and passion help them stay on top of the rapidly moving river of news. And also, as with any endeavor, humans adapt. Mike and Om aren't alone anymore. They now have awesome teams of people who help them, just like we have a team of people doing news here at ReadWriteWeb.
Why Twitter is Not an Accident
Twitter. Even a few years ago, the concept of constantly telling others about what you are up to would be considered absurd. Yet today, we not only embrace it, we are in love with the idea. Chat and email no longer reflect our constant hunger for 'what is going on now?' Listening to radio is boring because it is not personalized. Neither is TV. But Twitter gives us exactly the kind of real-time news we love - personalized and short.Yet, real-time is not something that is about to go away. Perhaps one of the most vivid examples of how real-time is creeping into our culture is
Lets face it, we are obsessed with real-time. We want more, and faster. It is not enough for me to have you tell me what you did yesterday. I want to know what you did 5 minutes ago. It is not enough for us to know that yesterday Microsoft made a bid for Yahoo! This is the kind of news we need to know as soon as it happens. We have entered an age in media where as soon as the news is created it needs to be channeled and broadcast to everyone. Real-time is not an accident. It is a direct consequence of our hunger to improve. Of course, we may be biting off more than we can chew.
Why Future Holds More Stress
The bad news is that real-time is not going away. We are not going to settle for less than right now. This means that the future holds more and more stress. As we evolve into a society that demands more information and more information processing immediately, we are also evolving into a society of people under constant stress. The fact that computers are ubiquitous is making it all that much worse. Of course people were stressed last century as well, but in the seventies when you went home for the weekend you, relaxed. Nowadays? No way. There is no 30 minute period in my life that I do not check email. Going off the grid is really hard for many of us. Real-time is not only stressful, it is addictive.
Faster causes stress. So does the non-stop flow of information. When we are unable to fall asleep at night, we lie down stressed and thinking why? Why am I doing all of this? The tough part is that there is no other way. We do not know how to do what we do and not be stressed. So for better or worse, we are rushing forward through the sea of information towards more stress.
Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything. The topics that we touch on in this post are discussed much more deeply and much more eloquently in Gleick's book. The age of Faster is upon us and it is not just blogging that's under the gun. All of us, our life style, and our families are rapidly changing under the pressure and stress of real-time. Where is it all headed? Only time will tell. One thing is for sure - we need to be careful and mindful.Back in 2000, a wonderful science writer James Gleick, wrote a book called
Please let us know your thoughts on the emerging faster culture, on the concept of real-time, and how it is creating stress in your life.