DNA Story on Nowism, Twitter and the Real Time Web

I was quoted recently in a DNA story on how the popularity of Twitter and the real-time web are a reflection of our desire to want everything now: a trend Malvika Tegta calls “nowism”.

In the email interview, I had mostly talked about how real-time web is changing the nature of content creation and content consumption, but “nowism” is an interesting idea indeed, the type of idea Maya would think about.

In the meantime, here is the full text of the DNA story –

I want tomorrow yesterday

Malvika Tegta

Wednesday, December 30, 2009 23:06 IST

Nowism is not the 21st century equivalent of the Vedic ideal ‘live in the moment’. It is, in fact, a mindset of importing the future into today; to want and to have it all now — information, experience and self-actualisation. Simply put, it is a demand on life for instant gratification.

Though an ancient human drive, the intensity of the instant is current. And, in the age of the Internet, this need to have everything ‘now’, or real-time, is finally being satisfied. We have the money, the reach and the capability to legitimately stake a claim on what can easily be ours, only by stretching a hand.

Choices, availability of information to aid decision-making, and rising incomes to execute those, says Gayathridevi KG, associate faculty at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, fuel the new worldview of high-speed acquisition. This collecting of goods or information, however, may not necessarily be competitive, but often comes from the anxiety to experience immediately all that is anyway well within reach. Since “nowism has an economic value, that brings it public sanction”, she says.

With everyone endorsing the means to the now, selfishness is no longer a four-letter word; a lack of commitment to people and places becomes the practical thing to do. Education continues to be careerist, career becomes priority, and the institution of marriage as a means to the completeness of family loses currency. In all this, travel becomes a booming industry.

An obvious byproduct of all this is the coffee/Red Bull culture. The race has stretched time; work targets need swift delivery, career growth often demands intensive working for long hours, online networks extract time investments, and life, at the end of the day, expects balance between work and other loves. A year into our jobs and we begin to worry about the other things on hold. “In our culture today, you are expected to continually move laterally or vertically,” says Gayathridevi.

“Most people in their 30s come and tell me that by 40, I want to earn this much money, buy this property and then retire. There’s an increasing sense of insecurity and distrust. Ultimately, what I hear more and more is ‘I want to travel to Ladakh or go to a yoga retreat’,” says Veechi, life coach at New Leaf. She, however, adds that for those in their mid-20s, nowism stretches to include spiritual nowism too, even though the very idea of that is competitive. “They tell me that I want to feel this and they want it soon,” she says.

The Internet leads the way in furthering this trend, where you Google and you get. Instant feedback makes us impatient and the multiplying claimants on our 24 hours have cut attention spans drastically. Attentiveness has become the new scarce commodity of the attention economy.

Platforms like Twitter — the new poster boy of nowism — are changing the ball game of the ‘now’. “I use Twitter search to discover what people are saying about a breaking news story, find out who else is present at the event I am attending and what are the first reviews for a movie that was released earlier in the day,” says Gaurav Mishra, CEO of 2020 Social, who has been closely tracking the use of social media. “The next big step is an ability to search for what my friends, people like me, or people near me are saying. As this behaviour is adopted by the mainstream, I expect profound repercussions for both brands and publishers.”

That has meant the breaking news culture, and a slant towards simple, digestible information as supported by the move towards commercial fiction. “People are looking for quick satisfying reads and this is the genre for them. Their readership is limited to those in their 20s and early 30s, who are more rushed. Our company itself follows a commercial publishing plan; we are focused on readable, light literature,” says Riti Jagoorie, product manager, Hachette India.

Even in the realm of advertising, where the Internet initially had brought sharply targeted marketing — where if you searched for coffee, Google turned up related ads on the same page — Twitter, says Mishra,will “mean that search engine marketing will begin to look more like social media marketing. Suddenly, the depth, duration and keyword density of your content will begin to matter less and the freshness, relevance and proximity of our conversations will begin to matter more. Suddenly, all marketing is beginning to look a little like word-of-mouth marketing”.

The now is infinite in its possibilities, yet restricted to the very real time dimension; there are a million parallel universes of choice that can be owned; and we have begun to see that. In this ephemera of choice, short notice decision-making is making us flexible. And nowism? It is ensuring that we never live in the now.

Cross-posted at 2020 Social: Because Business is Social.

As CEO of 2020 Social, I build and nurture online communities for Indian and international clients, connect their customers, partners and employees, and help them achieve their business objectives. Ask us how we can help you.

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  3. BusinessWeek Story on Iran’s Twitter Revolution

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