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Not enough memory

In Easy Rider, there is a shot of a wristwatch being thrown to the ground, discarded and unnecessary. "I'm hip about time," Captain America muses later. By contrast, in the 40 years since the film was made, the news media have clung closer and closer to time, to the extent that even stories about time itself - and in particular, the merits of British Summer Time - now feature on the radio and in newspapers as regularly as clockwork.

Strangely, in the commercial world of news reporting - which is essentially the communication of the unexpected to the uninformed - predictable events have a market value. "News planning" allows busy editorial teams to fashion a proportion of their content ahead of time, leaving more resources free to cope with unforeseen events on the day that a broadcast or broadsheet goes out. As resources diminish, so we have seen a steady growth in "anniversary" news (its most galloping form being the commemorative orgy that was last year's Radio 4 season "1968: Myth, or Reality?", and this year's programmes on the events of 1989). One imagines producers are already scheming over what to celebrate next year: is it too early to commemorate the millennium? Did anything cool happen in 1910? Helpfully for any rookie producer or editor, Wikipedia maintains a record of prominent anniversaries, listing at least 20 for every day of the calendar year.

But beyond Wikipedians, the internet does not care for calendar news, to the extent that it appears largely to have forgotten its own 40th birthday. Reports marking the four decades since the first message was sent over a telephone line between two computers have echoed to a limited degree around the blogosphere. And the Guardian's "A people's history of the internet" looks like it has had some success in crowd-sourcing an account of the same period. But this online activity is still driven by offline media.

Perhaps it is no surprise. To justify our attention, news media must present the world around us as an unfolding narrative, a sequence of discrete events upon which only it has the power to report. The web, by contrast, is multi-linear, a cacophony of conversations about events past, present and future, into which we can choose to dip at any time. On the web, it seems, we are just a little more hip about time.

Becky Hogge is a writer and technologist. She was formerly the technology director of award-winning current affairs website, and Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, a grassroots digital civil liberties organisation.

This article first appeared in the 02 November 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Mob rule