Scenario: I wake up at 4 AM, bundle up in warm clothing, and walk to a nearby McDonald’s to get food. When I get to this McDonalds, I finish my meal and refuse to leave. For an entire week. I go on Amazon to buy a book at the end of the week. I decide I’m unhappy at 5 AM and contact their customer support. I want to cancel the order. The management at the golden arches restaurant realize how long I’ve been there without eating, leading me to question how they can call themselves fast food with such slow reaction times.

I drag my feet returning home, using the extended time to visit reddit and look at content to cheer myself up. I browse this website for two weeks straight, without running out of things to look at or running into foreign objects along my walking path. It’s a feverishly good self-imposed blindness. At the end of my journey I stop into a convenience store to grab a cigar and coffee. Next to this convenience store is a gym. I check in, grab a towel, throw the towel into the collection bin, and then hop on a treadmill while smoking the cigar and chugging the coffee. Fueled by caffeine, nicotine, and adrenaline, I run, literally run, to my bank and withdraw all my money. All of my money. I let my greed run wild and try to withdraw someone else’s money too.

Someone calls 911 and police officers arrive.

End of scenario.

This series of events is not probable, but it is entirely possible because of an amazing thing known as 24/7.

When we think of 24/7, we most readily think of stores that are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The first store to become widely recognized for staying open 24 hours, influencing operational changes in other businesses, was 7-11. The story goes: a 7-11 located near the University of Texas got a rush of customers after a football game, and due to this impromptu yet overwhelming demand, the store remained open past the time they were supposed to close in order to serve all the customers. This incident served as the first successful pilot of a 24/7 model for the convenience store chain.

For consumers, 24/7 means there are places to go whenever they want or need to buy something. For those who work atypical hours, it’s a lifesaver. For the right businesses, it’s a profit-maker.

For media, 24/7 was a gamechanger. Created by an ambitious Ted Turner as a cable offering, CNN helped usher in a 24 hour news cycle in which news could be broken at any time during the day, not just at 6pm or 10pm or the next morning. And just as the advent of cable opened the way for CNN, internet and social media opened the way for even shorter and shorter news cycles. Some people say we’re at a 2 hour news cycle. I would say it’s about 2 minutes.

This is possible because the web created by the interaction of millions of networked devices is running 24/7. The internet is so 24/7, it’s “real time,” and since no one wants to be denied a dose of on-demand digital dopamine, the machine keeps running at a blistering pace. Below are three pieces of evidence that illustrate the extent of the internet’s 24/7ness.

Exhibit A: realtime.info

Exhibit B: http://pennystocks.la/internet-in-real-time/

Exhibit C: http://www.internetlivestats.com/

You can watch these all day and all night if you wanted to. Maybe one 24/7 cycle. Maybe one and a half.

The internet has allowed businesses such as Amazon, which only exist because of the internet, to provide support around the clock to customers from all over the world through forums, documentation, contact forms, and the more traditional call centers. The world is running 24/7 after all. And when the world runs 24/7, people need access to their money whenever they want (24/7 ATMs and online banking) and society needs access to emergency workers capable of putting out fires, saving lives, and arresting criminals (like the bank-robbing me in my opening scenario).

The most fascinating thing to realize is that 24/7 is not limited to systems, or industries, or organizations, or immaterial things (nonthings?) like information. Humans are 24/7 too.

You’re probably thinking – no we aren’t. We can’t run 24/7, otherwise we would fall asleep or die if we didn’t fall asleep. This is also what puts a damper on my scenario that I can browse a website while walking for two weeks straight without any issue.

But consider this: your heart beats 24/7. An electrical system allows the heart to cycle between relaxation and contraction to pump blood. Your not controlling this. This happens when you’re unconscious too. It’s running 24/7. A respiratory control center at the base of your brain (another 24/7 powerhouse) controls your breathing. This center sends ongoing signals down your spine and to the muscles involved in breathing. Once again, you don’t willingly control this. Even your circadian rhythm dictates your 24-hour day, determining when you’re tired and when you’re alert and when you’re hungry. So long as you aren’t screwing it up by overindulging in the 24/7 businesses or 24/7 media menu items.

Me and you and everyone we know are as 24/7 as a busy 7-11, an up-to-the-minute news cycle, and a never-leave-your-side internet.

If we weren’t 24/7, we wouldn’t be alive.

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