Realtime Is A Trap & The Past Is Underrated

Faster realtime data is great for machines but largely distracting for people. Realtime is a trap. The most recent tweets you’re reading aren’t necessarily the most relevant ones you could be looking at. Give people two magazine articles about evergreen topics – one with a recent timestamp, the other a few months old. Most will tell you the newer is more important, more interesting. Take it further – put two different timestamps on the same article – one today, one six months ago. I bet the “newer” one has more engagement and more sharing.

When Apple livestreams a product announcements, 99% of the people watching or reading liveblog are wasting their time. Unless your job depends on gaining access to Apple news as quickly as possible to make immediate business decisions, you should just be waiting for the summary.

Machines love realtime data. They can sort, process, compute with little tax. People on the other hand are being lead astray. I’m no different – I’d probably be shocked to know the total amount of time I spend in Twitter each day. The 1-2 snacks that add up.

What can we do as technologists, as humans? Contemplate “slow media” – other mechanisms to drive engagement and habit besides increased information velocity? Stop undervaluing archives – novel ways to expose less recent but highly compelling content to audiences? Self-control – turn off notifications, close the background tabs.

This isn’t a screed against multitasking, or social media, both of which I enjoy. It’s a question about a cognitive bias being exacerbated by our current product design.