The Speed Trap

Why it’s so hard to slow down—and why we can’t wait any longer


| March-April 1997


The alarm rings and you hop out of bed. Another day is off and running. A quick shower. Wake the kids and rush them through breakfast so they won’t miss the bus. Down a cup of coffee. Shovel a bowl of cornflakes. Hurry out to the car, not forgetting a swift kiss on your partner’s cheek. Hightail it to the freeway, making a mental note to grab some takeout Thai on the way home. (The kids’ soccer practice starts at 6:15 sharp.) Weave back and forth looking for the fastest lane while the radio deejay barks out the minutes—8:33, 8:41, quarter to. Reaching work, you sprint into the building and leap up the stairs three at a time, arriving at your desk with seconds to spare. You take a couple of deep breaths, then remember that the project you didn’t finish last night must be faxed to New York by 10:00. Meanwhile, you’ve got five voice-mail messages and seven more on e-mail, two of them marked urgent.

More and more it feels like our lives have turned into a grueling race toward a finish line we never reach. No matter how fast we go, no matter how many comforts we forgo in order to quicken our pace, there never seems to be enough time.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. As a kid in the 1960s I remember hearing that one of the biggest challenges of the future would be what to do with all our time. Amazing inventions were going to free up great stretches of our days for what really matters: friends, family, fun. But just the opposite has happened. We’ve witnessed a proliferation of dazzling time-saving innovations—jet travel, personal computers, Fed Ex, cell phones, microwaves, drive-through restaurants, home shopping networks, the World Wide Web—and yet the pace of life has been cranked to a level that would have been unimaginable three decades ago.

Curiously, there has been scant public discussion about this dramatic speed-up of society. People may complain about how busy they are and how overloaded modern life has become, but speed is still viewed as generally positive—something that will help us all enrich our lives. Journalists, business leaders, politicians, and professors feed our imaginations with visions of the new world of instantaneous communications and high-speed travel. Even many activists who are skeptical of the wonders of modern progress, the folks who patiently remind us that small is beautiful and less is more, look on speed as an undeniable asset in achieving a better society. Four-hundred-mile-an-hour trains, they assure us, will curtail pollution, and modem links across the planet will promote human rights.



Revving up the speed, in fact, is often heralded as the answer to problems caused by our overly busy lives. Swamped by the accelerating pace of work? Get a computer that's faster. Feel like your life is spinning out of control? Increase your efficiency by learning to read and write faster. No time to enjoy life? Purchase any number of products advertised on television that promise to help you make meals faster, exercise faster, and finish all your time-consuming errands faster.

Experiences like this are making me question the wisdom of zooming through each day. A full-throttle life seems to yield little satisfaction other than the sensation of speed itself. I’ve begun voicing these doubts to friends and have discovered that many of them share my dis-ease. But it’s still a tricky topic to bring up in public. Speaking out against speed can get you lumped in with the Flat Earth Society as a hopelessly wrongheaded romantic who refuses to face the facts of modern life. Yet it’s clear that more and more Americans desperately want to slow down. A surprising number of people I know have cut back to part-time work in their jobs or quit altogether in order to work for themselves, raise kids, go back to school, or find some other way to lead a more meaningful, less hurried life—even though it means getting by on significantly less income. And according to Harvard economist Juliet Schor, these are not isolated cases.

nik
5/28/2018 6:24:37 PM

◦As the tempo of modern life has continued to accelerate, we have come to feel increasingly out of touch with the biological rhythms of the planet, unable to experience a close connection with the natural environment. The human time world is no longer joined to the incoming and outgoing tides, the rising and setting sun, and the changing seasons. Instead, humanity has created an artificial time environment punctuated by mechanical contrivances and electronic impulses. ◦Perhaps we did what we did (we gathered in big cities, created economic surplus and power structures and then a globalized society) in a desperate try to save our species from extinction. We don’t know if we did. ◦True, this blind speed and inhumane progress contributes to a mass misery, which is based on the contrast of today’s society’s challenges and what we feel as natural, pleasant and nice due to evolution. ◦But there is not only one way to resolve this contrast… (we could intervene effectively with our bodies -and brains- in order to change the second term of the contrast) ◦Sachs believes that speed is an under recognized factor fueling environmental problems. As he puts it, “It’s possible to talk about the ecological crisis as a collision between time scales—the fast time scale of modernity crashing up against the slow time scale of nature and the earth.” (Body needs to be slown down). ◦But the convenient Tempo of the Earth never promised that it’s gonna help us always against extinction. Perhaps we needed some stress, some speeding up to expand our species and multiply and increase the chances that we are gonna be everywhere in the universe and live more, or forever, and create a steady condition where our species would never die. Perhaps we feel unconsciously something that tells us that is ok to suffer a little in order for this full immortality to be achieved. Of course we need to be calm at some extent in order to be able to achieve anything. But we don’t necessary need to be fully calm. Fully unconsciously calm. Perhaps we must use this little conscious or big unconscious unrest to save us completely. Sometimes unfortunately this inner unrest is going to break out, but this is only a sign that it’s inside is and is working. We need to hide it and relax again and be ok but perhaps we shouldn’t destroy it completely. two-week vacation in the Third World that has become a necessary ritual of replenishment for many of us.: The details in this balance, with probably the most unknown balance point in the history of life, are to be discussed and found, some of which are gonna become realities, and that’s what this project wants to achieve. For example: When I hear friends complain that their lives move too fast, they’re not talking about a wholesale rejection of speed so much as a wish that they could spend more of their time involved in slow, contemplative activities. One can love the revved-up beat of dance music, the fast-breaking action on the basketball court, or the thrill of roller coaster rides without wanting to live one’s life at that pace. A balanced life—with intervals of creative frenzy giving way to relaxed tranquility—is what people crave. Yet the pressures of work, the demands of technology, and the expectations of a fast-action society make this goal increasingly difficult to achieve.















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