An addicted insider’s account of our real lives in the era of the realtime, social web.

Confession #75: I’m Swimming with Information Sharks

People often say they remember exactly where they were when Kennedy was shot or when they heard some other world-changing piece of news. I remember where I was when the Haiti quake hit. And when the oil rig exploded in the gulf. And when I heard that Michael Jackson died. I was right here in front of this computer screen.

This is where I sit, keeping tabs on the torrent of information that enters my stream. I’ve always followed news and current events. But now it’s different. The realtime internet has turned me into an information shark. Either I keep swimming through this stream of information or I die.

In a recent New York Times article, young journalists are described as frantic, fatigued, intense, pressured, strained, exhausted, burnt out and shackled to their computers.

This might be an apt description of many online journalists, but it also sounds a lot like everyone I know.

Such is the state of the media business these days: frantic and fatigued. Young journalists who once dreamed of trotting the globe in pursuit of a story are instead shackled to their computers, where they try to eke out a fresh thought or be first to report even the smallest nugget of news.

If that’s the modern newsroom, then I am the world’s hardest working unpaid journalist. While journalists have to obsessively keep up with news related to their beats, my beat is the entire web. I’m frantic and fatigued by lunch. I am just another member of the web’s global newsroom. There are no editors pacing behind our desks. We have no news-related deadlines to meet. And our obsession with keeping up with the latest tweets, headlines and status updates is usually distracting us from things we ought to be doing instead. But we power onward.

During a recent appearance on The View, President Obama informed the world that he’s never heard of Snooki.

He’s got a custom blackberry, hundreds of aides, media advisers, and an unrivaled position as the candidate who’s made the best use of the internet and still, I’ve got to wonder: Is Obama out of touch?

Of course, Obama just has a job that requires him to manage his incoming information. Or maybe he’s just like us and he has too much incoming information to remember any of it (he once mentioned Snooki in a speech). But I’m always shocked when anyone hasn’t heard about, well, anything. I wish I didn’t know anything about Snooki. And no one is more tired of looking at The Situation’s abs than me. But the cast of Jersey Shore is in the stream and the stream is where I live.

On the day of the Steve Jobs Antennagate press conference, my mom called and asked: “Did you hear that Apple said something about their phone antenna earlier today?”

Did I hear anything about it? Mom, do you have any idea who I am?

Why do we do it? Why do millions of us sit in front of these screens hitting the refresh button on news, tweets and status updates so we can inhale and regurgitate the latest news, quotes and updates on topics that have little or no connection to us? Why do we volunteer to spend our time in the same way as assembly-line journalists who are being jack-hammered into a state of frantic fatigue? What good does this leg-tapping, red-eyed web obession do for us?

If anyone finds the answer to that question, please retweet it.


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My name is Dave Pell, internet superhero. This blog provides an addicted insider's account of what's happening to us in the era of the realtime, social web. You can read more about the site, grab the rss feed, follow me on twitter, join the Facebook page, or get email updates.