Lockdown Has Taken Us From Internet Time to Groundhog Time

To quote the great Willie Nelson, who of course was streaming live earlier this week to celebrate 4/20, “Hello walls.” I bet when he wrote that he had no idea that it would become our unofficial national anthem.For now, this weekly column is free for everyone to access. Soon, only WIRED subscribers will get Plaintext as a newsletter. You’ll get to keep reading it in your inbox by subscribing to WIRED (discounted 50%) , and in the process getting all our amazing tech coverage in print and online.

The Plain View

For the past couple of decades, we’ve had a shorthand to describe the speed of our wacky wired world: internet time. The term describes the blindingly rapid pace of change fueled by superfast processors, ubiquitous connectivity, and devilish innovation. Paradigm shifts used to take a generation, forced to wait their turn until those set in their ways literally died off. In internet time, generations were measured not in human life spans but in years—and then months, and then weeks—as new ideas and disruptions pulsed into the digital mindstream.
Since much of the world went into shelter mode in early March, we’ve been online more than ever. One might argue that our lockdown, along with the the adoption of tools to help ease our adjustment to it, has been our most rapid and widespread change of all. And yet it doesn’t feel like we’re on internet time anymore. Quite the opposite: Time has suddenly stopped moving. The digital clock that notes thousandths of a second is suddenly an hourglass with molasses in the sand.That’s our new reality: Without offices to go to—or, in too many cases, jobs to go to—time has become an undifferentiated lump. We sleep late or don’t seem to sleep at all. We have trouble remembering what day it is. Milestones marking the passage through each season-—the baseball season opener, the release of blockbuster movies, outdoor rock festivals—have disappeared from our calendars. Once we celebrated the end of the week by crowing TGIF. But there are no weekends when days are a Mobius strip of sameness. TGIF has been replaced by a grateful exhale of TGIA—thank God I’m alive. (So far.)
That’s the paradox of this wretched period. Because even though pretty much every waking moment is now a digitally connected one, we are no longer on internet time. We’re on Groundhog Time.