Real-time is real-ly fake

A real-time rant on the overuse of the term, “real-time.”

Nothing is more real-time than a face-to-face conversation or a phone call. Why didn’t we ever call these real-time?

All this “real-time” talk has to stop. It’s becoming one of the most annoying, overused buzz words of “ALL-time.”

Real-time communication, real-time search, real-time stats, real-time updates… everything’s in real-time now.

You know, email is real-time too… if you’re checking it constantly.

It started with Twitter, but Twitter was meant to send & receive text messages on your phone, thus the 140 character limit. The problem is that most of us use Twitter on a desktop or web app. And even if all messages do get sent to your phone, what if you put your phone in the other room, or just choose to ignore it for an hour or two – you know, so you can actually get some work done.

Twitter isn’t real-time unless the person receiving the message gets it right away too. If I don’t check my twitter feed for 2 days, you can DM and @-reply me all you want – it’s still not “real” time. It’s whatever time I decide to read it.

Communicating in real-time requires immediate attention from both sides. There is no such thing as 1-sided communication. Just because you send the initial message immediately doesn’t make it real-time. I have to receive it immediately.

If a tree falls down in the woods, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Sure it does. It makes a sound. A loud sound (especially if it’s a big tree). But it’s not communicating because there is no-thing/no-one on the other end. So does the sound occur in “real-time?”

Yeah, I guess. I mean, really though, who cares? What does real-time even mean anymore? Every new product, new app, website, etc. – they all keep touting they offer “real-time” communication. Well what’s the alternative? What did we do before the term “real-time” became popular? Were our communications delayed? Or even worse, were they occurring in fake-time? Artificial time?

If I want true “real-time,” I’ll do something Alexander Graham Bell did long before Facebook, Twitter & Google ever existed—I’ll pick up the phone & talk to them.

Hey. I wonder why we never called that “real-time”…

PS – Did you know? In retrospect, Bell considered his most famous invention an intrusion on his real work as a scientist and refused to have a telephone in his study (source).