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24/7 is so yesterday

How about 60/60/24/7/365?

If ever a phrase hurtled overnight into general parlance, then wore out its welcome before the sun rose again, it is the phrase “24/7.” I’m sure you know the phrase. You have heard it and seen it everywhere, in billboards, newspapers, and on the radio. It’s one of those hip things people say nowadays, some of them, that makes them sound plugged in. You can close your eyes and imagine a guy on the escalator next to you saying it into his Nokia.

What does it mean? It literally means 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A variant is “24/7/365”–pronounced threesixfive (no breaks)–for that many days a year.

But what does this glib glob of morphemes really mean? It has connotations, certainly. A year ago, it was straightforward enough. It signified the flashing neon all-nite ubiquity of e-commerce. It meant you could place an order any time at your convenience.

The reason an e-business can claim to be 24/7, of course, is that it is completely automated, a business driven wholly by software. The proprietor need do nothing. The customer does it all–logs on, specifies what he or she needs and how it is to be shipped or otherwise fulfilled, and finalizes the order.

But over the intervening threesixfive, the phrase has marched like mold on a month-old croissant, acquiring ever vaguer, newer tinges of meaning. Now it implies some ambiguous amalgam of other qualities, including with-it-ness and futuristic-ness and electronic-ness, but more importantly:

Ambition (We’re deeply serious about being successful), and

Industry (We’re willing to defy interplanetary time to serve you).

In short, it is a sort of yuppie boast: “We are masters of the universe!” And as such it has its youthful beauty. But, as with much youthful beauty, there are pimply pustules full to bursting just under the collarline.

Hold the boast up to a magnifying glass. Sure, if you’re willing to pay cash upfront to virtualize your entire business, in hopes of serving a global market, that constitutes Ambition all right. (He said grudgingly.)

But how much Industry is implied in a business that requires less upkeep than a goldfish bowl?

Is it not really a disclosure that you’re not interested in making money the old fashioned way, going to work in the morning, stocking the shelves, interacting personally with customers, and counting the receipts before turning off the lights and going home?

Is it not really an admission that while the rest of us are off working for $X/hour to buy your goods, you might as well be on some endless beach somewhere, sipping rum from a coconut?

Is it not really a confession that, far from being available around the clock, you’re not available at all, unless you consider that your business site’s ridiculous “knowledgebase” and irrelevant set of FAQs constitutes some vague dimension of availability?

Isn’t your true Ambition to forsake true Industry?

Of course it is, on all counts.

Meanwhile, I look for an extenuation of the notion that being 24/7 is the next best thing to being Francis of Assisi, a friend to mankind and curly-eyelashed woodland creatures.

Why stop at 24 hours a day, for instance? I want assurance that you’ll also be there for me 60 minutes in that hour, and 60 seconds in each of those minutes.

I want to shave it still finer and know that every nanosecond that you’re alive, you’ll be thinking of me.

Michael Finley also writes the monthly Diversions column for ComputerUser magazine.

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