In March of 2007, Twitter reported that 20,000 tweets were being sent everyday. In March of this year, 400,000,000 such messages were being sent on what has become one of the most-visited and used websites on the planet. The most recent data suggests that humans now send over five hundred million tweets per day and of course this shows no signs of abating. To keep track beyond a certain point seems as absurd as the amount itself – what is the purpose of measuring our own speed once it is beyond our comprehension? The numbers make sense as an idea but to place them into some sort of relatable reality-based framework is no longer possible on an individual basis. The year 2013 was many things, but above all it was the year when we reached a confusing form of critical mass. The year when we moved beyond our understanding of socializing as an act shared by individuals into a social landscape understood only as a mass unto itself, digested not by each of us, but by all of us simultaneously. The year when our infatuation with social media turned into an obsession which turned into a dependence from which we will not revert. As we see in the numbers above, reversion is precisely what is beyond us now. We are no longer in love with speed, we are addicted to it at a level where it has become a foundation, a requirement for what we think of as mere existence itself.
The effect of this move into warp speed is difficult to qualify as it is in its infancy. There is a sense though of a declining attention span, a generalized centralization of time and energy that, since removed from a physical space, creates this strange form of disorientation. We are always not quite where we are. Not only do I have no doubt that the next couple of decades will reveal a severe mental trauma wrought on the collective by our technologies, I am convinced that these findings and debate over them will form a new sort of quasi-religious debate between those who want to push further and those who try to take pause. As a starting point for the evidence of a social media landscape completely free of moderation, 2013 will be the likely choice.
For now, we have to be satisfied with little beyond our emotive responses and anecdotal moments. For those, 2013 is a lovely case study. On the political front, we are seeing a battle between our real time society and the fractured, slow-moving, partisan structures whose very meaning and legitimacy is plainly at stake. For some, this profusion of interaction and interactivity is a sign of democratic progress, even if a threat to mainstream democratic institutions. When Ted Cruz led America into a government shutdown, the response on social media was used to gain an understanding of public perception and will on the matter. That Cruz and his cohorts were soundly criticized on such technological infrastructure exacerbated the embarrassment of the defeat and sent even the staunchest Tea Partier into a degree of quietism not seen in years. A short time later, ObamaCare flamed out its own rollout, struggling to deal with massive demand and web traffic, which slowed its servers considerably and eventually forcing the site down completely. Enrollment suffered accordingly and America was launched back into the debate about the efficacy of Obama's signature legislation. The President's credibility took a massive hit and we saw a feedback loop of regurgitative criticism that did little to deal with the issue. Moreover, the public backlash was fierce and revealing. What is shows is that citizens are expecting the government to catch up with the rest of the world as it moves onto its virtual platform. The notion that a bit of slack might be given to a group trying to provide a degree of public healthcare that had been non-existent for over a hundred years was lost on those who had been promised by Obama an experience similar to that of shopping on Amazon. If it is not instant, seamless, sleek, progressive, always seeking a new frontier, it is becoming unacceptable, devoid of value, and difficult to legitimize. Anything perceived as being 'behind the times' is in the process of being banned by the zealots of the Real-Time. This disconnect between our interactions and our old sense of time and distance will only get worse and public reactions to a seemingly constant failing of our politics is inevitable.
2013 was the year when we realized that it would not be enough to simply hear of bombings like those at the Boston Marathon. It would not enough to grieve and reflect. One must consume the inane notions of millions of others. One must follow the police radio through links on Twitter and Facebook. One must tune into an online stream to see the perpetrator captured. One must then put in two cents worth in the form of one hundred and forty characters or less. Things must be experienced together now – not communally however, but still somehow narcissistically. When Miley Cyrus rubbed her ass on Robin Thicke, 300,000 Tweets were sent on the issue within a single minute. This reaction and consumption is the real democratizing effect of social media. To be part of everything at once, to move seamlessly from one non-event to another, to find meaning in the only collective experience we've managed to fashion for ourselves; the fine art of falling apart in front of a screen. 2013 was the year when we stopped considering what it would be like to live in the real-time social environment that loomed and simply started living in it. 2013 was the year when the Society of Eternal Beginnings, began. V