So the Internet went bananas (yellow, sometimes green) Thursday night because a singer (white, pale-ish) posted an image of a dress that people (all colors, but probably mostly white) had a problem determining the color of. Was it gold and white? Or blue and black? The question just about Kardashian-ed the Internet–surely you heard. But what if you didn’t? What if you weren’t part of what one site described as “mass hysteria” about the dress color? (Example: “everyone in the planet speculated tonight about what’s the color of a stupid dress.“) Can you really claim to be a participant in this modern connected world if no one asked you–within 24 hours of its posting–what color the dress is?
It’s not a idle question. The digital gap functions like a generation gap, both of which leave people behind. Now what color the dress is–and other silly viral sensations–aren’t important in themselves. But how we get our information and how connected we are to the networks of communication are critical elements of democracy. How fast do we need information? The dress doesn’t matter. It’ll be forgotten soon enough and replaced with another meme. But as a barometer of connectivity, whether or not someone asked you about the color of the dress tells you something about your network–its size and connectedness. (Or it might just tell you that people know better than to bother you with such trite things!) There’s some value (is there?) in being part of the mass, if not the hysteria. In a variation on trees falling in the woods (brown, green, gray), if a dress goes bonkers on the Internet and you don’t hear it, are you just too far away from the sound?