The preamble for the Guardian's live minute-by-minute report of the 2002 World Cup final makes for intriguing reading with the benefit of eight years of hindsight:
Pointless preamble: Morning all. I use the word "all" in its loosest sense, obviously, given that only the truly unfortunate will be reading this and not watching the game itself. We have all the makings here of the world's first existential minute-by-minute match report; you go into the World Cup on your own, you leave it on your own. The minute the teams are in, they'll be up here. The match kicks off at 12 noon. So if for some reason you can't watch the game, please stay with us. Feel free to email, not that I'm expecting any. Enjoy the final.
Twelve years ago the suspicion was that if readers could watch the World Cup final on TV they wouldn't bother reading text written by another person who was watching it on TV. In the same way that you wouldn't expect people to listen to the radio if they could watch live coverage, it was assumed that people would only read along if they were exiled from their rightful place in front of a screen.
We now know that this is plain wrong. People don't choose between reading and watching; they do both. The live coverage of Sunday's final was the most read page on the Guardian website this weekend (although Lauren Laverne's article about people who sleep naked ran it close). Two thirds of the traffic to the live football blog came from people following along on their mobile phones and tablets. For the most part, they were not logging in to find out what was happening on the pitch; they were comparing notes.
Nowhere is better for comparing notes than Twitter, the social networking site that was still four years away from launch in 2002. Twitter could have been invented for televised football matches. It gives lonely, stimulated and information-hungry people something to do during those long patches of boring nothingness that clog up most matches. And when something happens, it is the perfect place for people to see if the rest of the world is thinking what they are thinking. As the final whistle blew at the Maracanã last night, the site let out a collective breath as 618,725 tweets were sent in one minute. A total of 32.1m tweets were posted during the 120 minutes of football.
This pluralism of voices suits the times we live in. People no longer want to sit back and drink in what Mark Lawrenson has to say about the game; they want to join a nationwide discussion about how annoying it is to have to listen to Mark Lawrenson. Glenn Hoddle, the former England player and manager, is now a man who confuses TV stations with countries and wears trousers that are too tight; Phil Neville, the Champions League winner and Manchester United coach, is a man with an amusingly dull voice; and Jonathan Pearce, a football commentator with three decades of experience, is the one man in the UK who doesn't understand goalline technology.
At past World Cups, the country watched along collectively and heard commentators' great lines go down in history, but now viewers wait for pundits to say something stupid so they can post witty responses online. For years the coterie of ex-players and experts told their public that they were could not truly understand the game as they had not played it. Twitter has given those fans a voice and the punditocracy are having to face their comeuppance.
Twitter is not only about mocking the authority of the football elite. It is also a place where people can revel in the absurdity and beauty of our world. While the traditional media tend to focus on hard news stories that are usually negative, social networks notice and extol the small things that make life a captivating experience. During a break in play in last night's final the worldwide television feed cut to a picture of the Christ the Redeemer statue shimmering in front of the setting sun. A collective shiver shot around the world and Twitter lit up with enthusiasm for this modern wonder of the world.
Similarly, when the referee noticed his face on the big screen and sorted out his hair, the internet was there to capture the moment and prolong it in the public consciousness. When Rio Ferdinand turned up to the BBC studio wearing a double-breasted blazer, he was recast as an EasyJet pilot. And when Sepp Blatter took his seat beside Vladamir Putin, the pair were framed as two young lovers for our amusement. It wasn't all big and it wasn't all clever, but if variety is the spice of life, the internet has added a new set of flavours to World Cup finals.