Saturday, April 17, 2010

Welcome to the No-Time Web

Time is a construct - a way for us to make sense of a series of events. It is the way we bring clarity to what would otherwise be at risk of being a very confusing reality.
Theoretical physics tells us everything that will ever exist already exists and is at all points in space and time simultaneously.
Perhaps I'm over simplifying and or being far too generalist? What is certain is that the notions of past, present and future are cast seriously into doubt by modern physical thinking; and also that time is the fourth dimension for us three-dimensional dwellers, but that superstring theory requires TEN dimensions.

We don't need to delve much more deeply into this, you will be relieved to know, for us to have a paddle at the edges of these philosophical depths.

Loosely, there are all these additional dimensions, all things that ever happen all happen at once and at every other point in time/space... and we manage to stumble our way through this hard-to-imagine stuff by layering on the 'made in the brain' concepts of time and space. Things appear to happen in order because that's the way we make sense of 'everything'.

A small example. It's widely thought that the way we dream replicates this idea. A whole bucketful of concepts get thrown out and strewn around by our subconscious as we sleep (where time and space is not experienced and so have little value) and these concepts are hurriedly assembled into a story, complete with a linear progression and played out in spaces we can 'get our heads round' as we wake - in order for our conscious mind to make any sense/derive any value from them. The 'dream' if you like, only happens as you wake up. The raw material is generated as you sleep but the plot gets layered on as the conscious mind kicks in.

For many centuries we have supplied a linear narrative to understand the jumble of reality. This makes perfectly excellent sense to us. We plant a seed. It grows. We harvest the outcome. How could it be any other way?

But the emerging reality is a place which is a collection of events. There is no hard and fast order. No hard and fast way in which this reality must be experienced.

In the past (if you'll pardon the continued use of the term) - a mass production world required defined processes with progress contingent on the successful completion of the previous step; a mass production line.

Computers don't function like that when they are processing - Random Access Memory is very different from the indexing you'll find of books in your local library, for example.

And with the web too, we pull information we need at the point we need it. The Web is all of us using all of us as RAM.

This challenges our comfortable linear thinking. It raises doubts about the value of time and 'the right' order that things do or must happen in.

On the web being the first or being the most 'up to date' is less important than being the most relevant - being useful in a particular set of circumstances and from a particular perspective - much more than at a particular time. Hence the rise of the real time web.

In the real time web we find people, things, ideas etc which are useful to us right now. We don't need to have grown-up with the people, we don't need to understand that we must know what A and B are to know why A + B = C (we can go straight to C). We don't need to layer on time or space to make sense of this reality.

What is useful to us at 'this point' is important - not what is newest (a challenge to 'news' that media orgs must get to grips with). Relevant beats recent.

Perhaps the real-time web is in fact a misnomer. Perhaps instead we should call it the no time web. It is a place where processes of progression are less important; where we do loads of things at once - experience lots of things, all at once.

Our growing experience of this has the potential to change the way we experience every element of our reality - not just our online information gathering.

As we learn, we move from temporal order to what some would call chaos. But I wonder if this seeming chaos isn't in fact closer to the reality of our universe than we have ever allowed ourselves to experience before.

The web may be opening our eyes to a RAM reality that sits behind the time-ordered reality we have layered on until now.

Taking those blinkers off is likely to be enlightening and frightening in equal measure.

The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?