What’s the latest injury news from the NFL? Is it likely to be warm tomorrow? What’s the news on the President’s proposed visit to Asia next month?
If you had been asked any of these questions a few years ago, you would most likely have either looked at this morning’s newspaper or switched on the TV news channel. The former would have had what we thought of as the latest news, but of course, it would be up to 24-hours old. The latter would certainly be more current, but unless it was a breaking story of national importance, you would have to wait for the newscaster to get around to that part of the broadcast.
Today, however, you would simply look to your desktop, tablet or smartphone and get the latest update. For the topics that really matter to you, you would not even have to go looking, with push notifications popping up of your phone to tell you that a storm is coming or that The Browns have broken yet another quarterback.
Yet the immediacy and real-time nature of the Internet is not purely about news and current affairs. It affects our lives in ways you might not even have noticed. Here are some examples.
Instant millionaires in real-time
Remember the days when you used to sit with bated breath waiting for the lottery results to be broadcast? These days, you can find out instantly whether you need to turn up for work tomorrow, and the California lottery winning numbers are among many that are now updated in real-time. After all, somebody has to win that $25 million jackpot, and if it’s you, you will probably want to know about it sooner rather than later.
Beating the rush hour
The “eye in the sky” became part of American’s national culture, yet today, the thought of people flying a helicopter over our highways to transmit the traffic news to us on the radio seems like a throwback to a simpler time.
Increasingly, traffic is instead monitored by CCTV cameras positioned along the major highways, and these send real-time updates to in-car GPS systems and cellphones. Not only do they tell us where the traffic is building up, they even propose the fastest route to our destination according to the up to the minute conditions.
Instant access to everything you need to know
The question of who was Chester A. Arthur’s Vice President is one where the answer is not going to change any time soon, so you might wonder how this relates to real-time updates. The point is that if you sought an answer to this or a similar question in years gone by it would have meant a trip to the local library or a call to a knowledgeable relative.
Today, the answer is right there, in seconds, on the end of your smartphone. To save you the trouble, incidentally, it was a trick question – he didn’t have one.
Sale now on
Sales are still advertised on TV and in shop windows much as they used to be, but have you noticed how many of them there are? The truth is, that is only the half of it. The huge increase in online shopping over recent years coupled with advances in data analytics and machine learning mean that store promotions are becoming more personalized and happen in real-time.
Online retailers are already providing bespoke online “personal shopper” type services, but they can also adjust their sales promotions to start and end at just the right time to tempt you into buying that treat you have been promising yourself or a loved one. Not only that, but they can send notifications direct to your smartphone to let you know the latest bargain, and to remind you when a promotion is nearing its end.
Saving lives in real time
In case the above suggests that real time updates are just another tool to separate you from your hard-earned money, let’s finish with an example that is not just life-affirming but life-saving.
There are plenty of fitness apps on the market that provide real time information on heart rate, exercise levels and so on. But one Brooklyn man owes his life to such a tracker, when it provided a combination of data that told him he was suffering from a pulmonary embolism. He told reporters that had it not been for the early warning his smart watch provided, it would have proved fatal.