If you hold the cynical view that Wall Street is just a bunch of people endlessly trading parts of companies back and forth, well, you don't really know what's going on.
Not so much humans, but computers, are endlessly trading parts of companies, and even generating hundreds of thousands of fake orders to fool other computers so that high frequency traders can take advantage of the confusion. Say what?
The research firm Nanex presented the utterly terrifying animation below at Wired's Business Conference. It represents one half-second of trading orders for just one stock -- Johnson & Johnson.
Each box represents an exchange that has orders behind and which then sends orders to a consolidated feed where the information is processed. As you will notice, it is hard to keep up with what is going on here, even at the millisecond level.