The five most endangered words of the real-time internet era are:
Let me think about that.
Shirley Sherrod, the former rural development director for the Agriculture Department in Georgia found that out the hard way when she was fired by the Obama administration for her delivery of a supposedly racist speech. The speech was creatively excerpted, political bloggers and cable news commentators blew up the story, it entered the Twitterverse, and boom, Sherrod was asked to resign from her position.
Unfortunately, no one seemed to have time to listen to the whole speech. Once they did, Sherrod was showered with apologies and found herself taking calls from the President.
This story is less about politics and more about pace. It provides a clear example of how our Facebook and Twitter behaviours are bleeding over into the rest of our lives. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs summed up the situation:
Members of this administration, members of the media, members of different political factions on both sides of this have all made determinations and judgment without a full set of facts.
That's an apt description of the new national pastime: Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and making determinations and judgments without a full set of facts.
When confronted with the real-time web's constant flow of incoming information, who has time for a full set of facts? We each take a few seconds to consider a one hundred forty character blurb and then hammer out our reactions by way of a tweet or status update.
That model works for some incoming data. I only need a few seconds to come up with my official response to much of what is shared by way of the real-time web: Farmville update (hide), Foursquare Check-in (ignore), Mel Gibson tape (email link to Rabbi), Kid in a watermelon (retweet).
Other news and information doesn't necessarily fit into the new instant-response model. But as everything merges into a single stream, it's getting more difficult to turn off the reflex and the sense of urgency long enough to identify the data that requires a little more consideration.
You want me to listen to an entire speech given by the the rural development director for the Agriculture Department in Georgia? Come on. I have hundreds of incoming bits to either regurgitate or about which I need to render my rock solid opinion. You think it's easy to become an expert pundit on topics as varied as phone antennas, oil spills, Lindsay Lohan's jail experience, World Cup soccer and the inner workings of Mel Gibson's phone etiquette in a single sitting?
Are you ever surprised by how certain you can be about your position on a topic that you only heard about 30 seconds before?
Where does this lead? Do we rebound from this trend and begin to compartmentalise that incoming information which requires deeper thought or does everything get put on the high speed and never ending instant-opinion assembly line?
I'll answer that question with the three most endangered words in the blogosphere.
I don't know.
Dave Pell is an internet addict, early adopter and insider. He blogs regularly at Tweetage Wasteland.
Illustration: Nikki Cook