A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a weekend piece entitled 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.
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.