“Ripeness,” Shakespeare told us, “is all.” The Bard did not anticipate the realtime web. On the New Net, ripeness is nothing. Nowness is all, as David Gelernter tells us in his essay “Time to Start Taking the Web Seriously.” Web 2.0 was supposed to bring us a creative outpouring of “social production.” Instead it’s tossed us into the rapids of instant communication. The Web has become a vast multimedia telephone system, where everyone is on the same party line, exchanging millions of bite-sized updates and alerts with every tick of the clock. Google, Facebook, Twitter: the Net’s commercial giants are locked in a fierce competitive battle to speed up “the stream.”

The Net’s bias, Gelernter explains, is toward the fresh, the new, the now. Nothing is left to ripen. History gets lost in the chatter. But, he suggests, we can correct that bias. We can turn the realtime stream into a “lifestream,” tended by historians, along which the past will crystallize into rich, digital deposits of knowledge. We will leap beyond Web 2.0 to “the post-Web,” where all the views are long.

It’s a pretty vision. I wish I could believe it. There are times when human beings are able to correct the bias of a technology. There are other times when we make the bias of an instrument our own. Everything we’ve seen in the development of the Net over the past 20 years, and, indeed, in the development of mass media over the past 50 years, indicates that what we’re seeing today is an example of the latter phenomenon. We are choosing nowness over ripeness.

This post, which appeared originally, in a slightly different form, at, is an installment in Rough Type’s ongoing series “The Realtime Chronicles,” which began here.

4 thoughts on “Nowness

  1. dougiedd

    Not only are we losing the ability to ripen, we are swiftly moving to rot.

    The use of the term ‘nowness’ is Orwellian. True ‘nowness’ should imply mindfulness, but the experience of the web 2.0 is for the most part, mindless.

  2. Aristotle Pagaltzis

    The final word on what has now been coined “nowness” was given years ago:

    The Death of Postmodernism And Beyond

    (I was originally turned to that text via my delicious network – one of the purer forms of nowness. Then it languished in my unread bookmarks for a few months. Finally I took a leisurely 2 hours to read it and reflect on it. On my netbook. Sat in the far corner of a café.

    Make of that blend what thou wilt.)

  3. an691

    Hey Googling about it, found that Yves Bonnefoy wrote a paper about Shakespeare “ripeness is all” quote, and “The readiness is all”, found in Hamlet, and this with respect to modernity, in 1986 :

    But having no Jstor account couldn’t read it in full yet …

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