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“Watching” History Unfold

I had been waiting months for it to begin. The Brits had been preparing its city for years. Everyone waited anxiously for the Olympics to begin, an event that not only showcases the world’s best athletes but also the culture of the host city and the history and tradition of the Games, which dates back to their origin in Ancient Greece. It is a few weeks during the summer – once every four years – in which dedicated and determined athletes put forth their best efforts across a variety of events, representing their nation and heritage on the largest possible scale.

Despite the excitement and anticipation, when the games actually began, I found myself experiencing the Olympics in a much different way than I ever once thought. We are now nearly two weeks into London 2012 and hundreds of medals have been awarded to athletes from across the globe and the amount of time I have spent watching the Olympics can be counted in mere minutes. I have seen one swimming event, three minutes of the USA vs. Nigeria basketball game, and even shorter fragments of gymnastics and beach volleyball. I missed the much-anticipated and heralded Opening Ceremony and perhaps the highlight of the Olympics so far: Usain Bolt dominating a star-studded pack of phenomenal sprinters (as well as Andy Murray and Jess Ennis representing their host nation in golden style). As an avid sports fan who greatly admires the athletes that devote their lives for one shot at glory on the international stage, I must admit, I am somewhat ashamed of my lack of Olympic viewing.

There are several culprits behind this travesty of affairs: the time zone difference, the dubious coverage by NBC, perhaps my lack of time management, and our constant access to endless amounts of information. There is nothing I can do about the Atlantic Ocean and I am pretty sure NBC will keep sending Bob Costas out there to amuse his audience with bizarre commentary, but it is the last villain – information and its abundance – that has forever changed our perception of history.

Information is constantly invading our lives from all different angles. We are so attached to our smartphones that they may as well be another appendage. Quick bursts of updates, news, and facts infiltrate our brains from Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, text messages, and mobile applications. Before I can even search ESPN.com for the time when the 100 meter dash will air, it is already showing the results from London – Usain Bolt cruising through the finish line to a gold medal in an Olympic Record time. Oh well, guess I won’t be tuning in for that one later tonight!

However, before I am condemned for these blasphemous acts in the world of sports, let me re-assure you that my interest in the Games (and everything they represent) has far from waned. In fact, I have not been more interested in this year’s Olympics in London for a variety of reasons: the Games are situated in the premier metropolis of Europe, there is the return of Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt as well as the emergence of the second “Dream Team,” the competitive medal chase among China, USA, Russia, and Great Britian, among many other fascinating plotlines. The main difference has been how I have experienced these historic events.

Although I have not witnessed any of these Olympic events live in London and barely seen any of them televised, I still feel as though I have experienced each storyline as if I had seen it with my own eyes. Within seconds of each event, the world engages in a conversation that dissects and analyzes what just transpired, sharing views, emotions, and perspectives with a global audience. Perhaps, that “villain” isn’t so bad after all; rather, the abundance of information is simply allowing for a different type of experience.

About a week ago I read a captivating article (Keeping Danny Boyle’s Secret) about one person’s thoughts on the Opening Ceremony and what it meant for London, and Tuesday I came across Bill Simmons’ tweet featuring his article, The London Chronicles, Vol 4: Great Britain Lives Up to Its Name, which described this past incredible weekend in London as the stars shined in front of huge passionate crowds. The former made me feel as if I were there in London, having witnessed all the preparation for the Games and then finally watching the months of practice culminate in a memorable Opening Ceremony. The latter put me in a seat 20 rows up from the track to watch Jess Ennis fulfill the dreams and hopes of all Brits one night, and then to watch Usain Bolt sprint his way to an unthinkable gold medal the next. This illustrates both the power of writing and expression but also the modern capability to easily share these pieces with the world.

As Katherine Relle eloquently articulated in the aforementioned article, we have been evolving into an “information society” in which there is a constant flow of information around the world. We can share thoughts and opinions within seconds of an event with an international audience, receiving feedback on those expressions shortly thereafter, beginning a “global conversation,” so to speak. The incredible technology of this generation has made an enormous world with billions of people incredibly small and interactive. We live in a world where the actual experience of an event almost takes a backseat to the picture (or status update) that documents that event so we can share it with our “friends.”

These Olympics have further reinforced the fact that we are an intricate community, brought together by social media, and one that seeks feedback and commentary just as much as the inherent value of an experience. Nothing can replace the awe-inspiring experience of witnessing something incredible with your own eyes. However, the ability to share that experience with the world and partake in that global conversation which spreads the emotions and thoughts of the experience to others is an incredible substitute and a modern phenomenon. Perhaps I will get the chance to watch more of the Olympics before they conclude, but if not, I know I will be a part of the conversation that ensues, the creation of a powerful story that will far outlive the actual event.