Real time is realtime


I’m glad to see that “realtime” is officially one word now rather than two. It’s an update long overdue. That space between “real” and “time” had become an annoyance. Looking at it was like peering into a black hole of unengaged consciousness, a moment emptied of stimulus. It was more than an annoyance, actually. It was an affront to the very idea of realtime. As soon as you divide realtime into real time it ceases to be realtime. Realtime has no gaps. It’s nonstop. It runs together.

Believe it or not, it was not much more than a thousand years ago when some scribe in a monastery – some monk – decided to begin putting spaces between words. Uptothenpeoplewrotelikethiswithallthewordsbangingagainsteachother. Monks don’t live in realtime. They live in the blank spaces – and for the last millennium they’ve forced us to live in the blank spaces with them. It’s been a drag. I think if it were up to monks, we’d all write like this:





All spaces, no letters. Total disengagement from the here and now. Unrealtime. I mean: un real time.

But it wasn’t just that one meddlesome monk. Pretty much the whole history of civilization has been a war on realtime. Culture, we’ve been taught, is what goes on in the blank spaces, the mind-holes that open up when we exit realtime. Before the civilizers came along to muck things up – to put things in perspective, as they’d probably say – the universe was entirely realtime. There was no before. There was no after. There was only the instant in which stuff happens.

Realtime is our natural state – it’s what we share with the other animals – and now at last we’re going back to it. Listen to the birds. They’ll tell you all you need to know: realtime is a stream of tweets. Yesterday, when he announced the twitterification of Facebook, the realtiming of the social network, Mark Zuckerberg said, “We are going to continue making the flow of information even faster.” The first one to remove all the spaces wins.

This post is an installment in Rough Type’s ongoing series “The Realtime Chronicles,” which began here.

12 thoughts on “Real time is realtime

  1. Seth Finkelstein

    “Listen to the birds. They’ll tell you all you need to know: realtime is a stream of tweets.”

    So you’re saying Twitter is for the birds?

    Or giving it the bird?

  2. Jan Massie

    Sorry, but Twitter rules! I’ve tried being contemplative and doing the thinking thing, and it’s formless, unproductive, and time consuming. I like obvious rules like 140 characters or else!

  3. niraj j

    From a birds perspective:(i.e a twitter user)

    If the birds knew that their collective tweets would be assimilated to alter there natural course of evolution would they still continue tweeting? i.e if we had a device that summed up the top 3 bird concerns today and then some other superior birds used the information to alter the natural course how would this affect the birds. The innocent tweets will frankly disappear into loud orchestrated voices. Orchestrated being the key word there.

    Being a normal human being (the rest 99.9% of population not on twitter)

    Most of the time I never listen to bird tweets. only maybe on sunday’s when I am curious to explore other forms of life. Beyond that it is either amusing music or sometimes when I trying to concentrate – pure noise.

  4. Anonymous

    Nick, welcome to the 90s – Gartner took 3,4,5 words and made them into acronyms. Or was it the military in the 60s with FUBAR and SNAFU? :)

  5. Ivo Quartiroli

    Monks live in the gaps between words and meditators look for the gaps between thoughts. Every inner “technology” for awareness starts with slowing down thoughts, stimuli and cravings looking for empty spaces.

    But the realized mystic, an enlightened being, lives in an unending flow, in a condition labelled as “here and now”. No more gaps between thoughts, actions and the awareness of them. This is a state beyond time but, as all mystics say, more real than the ordinary interpretation of the world by the mind. Real realtime.

    In my opinion, technologically realtime and the will toward speed is a simulation limited on the mental level of a deeper spiritual need where the unending “here and now” flow is joyfully free from the mind’s interference. On a technologically level it won’t free anything. It’s just cluttering our minds preventing them to see the spaces. Even the hidden spaces between letters and words.

  6. mariana soffer

    Realtime refers to computer systems that update information at the same rate they receive information.

    The space between real and time before they become one word existed to alllow technology havr fun at us by imposing nonsense trough a discipline that aims to eliminate uncertanties and absurdities.

    My concern about living in real time is that the dreams that generate big inventions will disapear.

    Reflecting about problematic stuff will scease.

    The perpetuation of habitual actions that are not necesarily beneficial will not be modified.

    It is true that we have been avoided real time for a long long time which caused lots of problems.

    Realtime it is also fundamental for human beings, is like allowing yourself being a child again.

    Guess the ideal lifestyle is somewhere in between both

  7. David Evans

    When I started working in a ‘realtime’ environment, I remember thinking that it was an odd concept; what else is there? I didn’t think they were referring to something that was on a different axis to Stephen Hawking’s time in the imaginary plane (although I’ve often thought that would explain a lot). My conclusion was that it was computing to the constraints of time and nature, as opposed to forcing nature to adapt to the artificial constraints of computing. In other words, an offshoot of ergonomics. Realtime is therefore nothing to do with tweets, which force us to constrain our thoughts and expression to an arbitrary system, but quite the reverse. A realtime system for connecting humans to each other in surprising and free-form ways is a park bench. Pity that when two people sit down on a park bench these days, they are more likely to be twittering via 3G than talking to each other. Here is another example of a realtime activity, by the way:

  8. Nick Carr

    Yeah, I see that even Facebook is still putting a hyphen into the noun: “Now your friends’ posts are streamed in real-time and you have more control over what you see.” That’s so 2008.

    I also like what Facebook says (on that same linked-to page) in describing its new filters: “Make sure you stay updated on what the friends you care about are posting.” If there are friends you care about, there must also be friends you don’t care about. Once that would have been considered oxymoronic, but in the realtime-realspace continuum the physics of relationships are different.

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