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ManhattanHenge And The Real-Time Moment

After spending a day at the Real-Time Stream CrunchUp and listening to the companies and people converging around this new sector, I thought it would make sense to invert the question. Investments will be made in the technology of encoding and relaying, filtering and finding, and reading and writing into streams. But what is it that the real-time web should be focusing its camera on? How does what we pay attention to change when we move from the corpus of stored data to what is happening right now.

There’s a sense in which real-time retrieves older patterns. Before time was flattened into a linear sequence by the clock, it was primarily present as rhythmic cycles. We lived within the cycles of our bodies, the seasons and the movements of celestial bodies. The recurrence of an event was an affirmation of our perdurance.

ManhattanHenge is a biannual solstice event that occurs each May 28 and July 12/13. Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History, brought it to the world’s attention.

The recurrence of ManhattanHenge is a kind of modern-primitive event. Its immediate appeal is the emotional satisfaction of the visual event– it’s like witnessing a hole in one. And while the traditional news media may treat it as an oddity, as a bit of fluff for the end of a broadcast— this event resonates at a much deeper level for those who take the time to unpack it.

In his later work, Wittgenstein turned to the construction of language games as a way to engage in the activity of philosophy. In his excellent book, How to Read Wittgenstein, Ray Monk describes it like this:

It seems the best way of understand the use Wittgenstein makes of language games is to see their role in the construction of Übersicht, and thereby their role in producing ‘the kind of understanding that consists in seeing connections.’

ManhattanHenge is a way of seeing a connection between the linear Euclidean thought that results in the architecture of the city of Manhattan and the circular activity of time expressed into the movements of heavenly bodies. And while Stone Henge was built to specifically capture that connection, ManhattanHenge emerged out of the unconscious elements of a Euclidean landscape to make the same connection. This fleeting image encapsulates so many strands of thought– nature/culture; web/real-time; language/forms of life; and linear/circular.

That point on the horizon, the blaze of light at the end of 42nd street— that is the real-time moment, the connection between our technology and the natural world unfolding around us.


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