I wanted to take a minute to take a different look at the massively popular Internet meme that spread around the world yesterday. I won’t go into detail about the story, since you can find the details by googling “balloon boy.” Far more interesting was the scope and the speed of the reaction. It happened at Electric Speed. Marshall McLuhan wrote in his 1964 book that electricity “..ended sequence by making things instant.” What he meant was that the invention of electricity collapsed the time and space that used to slow down communication and coordination until all things can be communicated and coordinated instantly, creating what he called the global village (he used this term long before Hilary Clinton popularized it).
Yesterday we saw a perfect example of this. Within minutes of the news story breaking, every major network was covering it, but more intriguing, the internet network lit up, kicking its creative electronic coordination and creation machine into high gear. Within hours, people were reworking the Fresh Prince lyrics to fit the story via Facebook, commenting on whether or not the incident was a hoax, mashing up the story with previous internet meme Kanye West, and even creating a “Go Falcon, Go!” t-shirt about the event for sale on Zazzle. At the same time, the internet network began self-policing, suggesting, in its own unique way, that the event was a hoax.
As McLuhan would have predicted in 1964- the cycle of events, news reporting, social commentary, historical analysis and production of commemorative memorabilia – which in the past might have taken weeks or perhaps even months, was compressed yesterday into a span of 24 hours. We are still in the early stages of understanding the massive implications of this speed for individuals, organizations and societies, but they are not going to be small, nor are they going to be easy to figure out.