Mark D. Roberts

Part 3 of series: Live Blogging Lent
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series
I recently finished reading a book by James Gleick, Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything. Published in 2000, Faster argues that our lives are running after faster speeds in more ways than we usually realize. Though many of the illustrations in Faster are dated, this fact almost makes the point of the book more strongly. What seemed to be the breakneck pace of life in 2000 is slower than most of us live today.
I think most of us know this, but we tend to accept it as a given, rarely considering the consequences of our speedy lives. Lent provides an occasion to think about such things, as I’ll explain later. For now, here are some excerpts from Faster that I found interesting. They’ll give you the flavor of the book.
Excerpts from Faster by James Gleick
We have reached the epoch of the nanosecond. This is the heyday of speed. “Speed is the form of ecstasy the technical revolution has bestowed on man,” laments the Czech novelist Milan Kundera, suggesting by ecstasy a state of simultaneous freedom and imprisonment. (KL 173-175, KL = Kindle Location)
We have a word for free time: leisure. Leisure is time off the books, off the job, off the clock. If we save time, we commonly believe we are saving it for our leisure. We know that leisure is really a state of mind, but no dictionary can define it without reference to passing time. It is unrestricted time, unemployed time, unoccupied time. Or is it? Unoccupied time is vanishing. The leisure industries (an oxymoron maybe, but no contradiction) fill time, as groundwater fills a sinkhole. The very variety of experience attacks our leisure as it attempts to satiate us. We work for our amusement. Five hundred channels became a watchword of the nineties even before, strictly speaking, it became a reality. It denotes too much to choose from. And not just channels: coffees, magazines and on-line ’zines, mustards and olive oils, celebrity perfumes and celebrity rumors, fissioning musical styles and digitized recordings of more different performances of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony than Beethoven could have heard in his lifetime. (KL 234-242)
Our ability to work fast and play fast gives us power. It thrills us. If we have learned the name of just one hormone, it is adrenaline. No wonder we call sudden exhilaration a rush. (KL 274-276)
It is a token of our confusion: are we victims or perpetrators of the crime of haste? Are we living at high speed with athleticism and vigor, or are we stricken by hurry sickness? (KL 293-295)
David Hancock, chief of the Hitachi Corporation’s portable computer division, drove his team with the slogan “Speed is God, and time is the devil.”  (KL 1058-1059)
Nor does one buy deep-blue denim jeans with their dye stiff as tin, resigned to wearing them for a year before achieving a faded “look.” One buys them prewashed, prefaded, and maybe prepatched at the knees or seat. Who can wait for nature to take its course? (KL 1402-1403)
And workaholic was the coinage not of a teacher or lawyer but of a minister, Wayne E. Oates, who noticed in 1968 that he and his colleagues were often compulsive, driven, restless, and positively addicted to their calling. God’s work is never done. (KL 2016-2018) [Note: Wayne Oates was, in fact, a professor in the field of psychology of religion, teaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and University of Louisville School of Medicine.]
Saul Bellow, naming our mental condition “an unbearable state of distraction,” decided the remote control was a principal villain. Pointless but intense excitement holds us, a stimulant powerful but short-lived. Remote control switches permit us to jump back and forth, mix up beginnings, middles and ends. Nothing happens in any sort of order. . . . Distraction catches us all in the end and makes mental mincemeat of us. (KL 2357-2361)
The remote control is a classic case of technology that exacerbates the problem it is meant to solve. As the historian of technology Edward Tenner puts it: “The ease of switching channels by remote control has promoted a more rapid and disorienting set of images to hold the viewer, which in turn is leading to less satisfaction with programs as a whole, which of course promotes more rapid channel-surfing.” (KL 2375-2378)
Is time saved when we manage to leave it empty, or when we stuff it with multiple activities, useful or pleasant? Does time-saving mean getting more done? If so, does daydreaming save time or waste it? What about talking on a cellular phone at the beach? Is time saved when we seize it away from a low-satisfaction activity, like ironing clothes, and turn it over to a high-satisfaction activity, like listening to music? What if we do both at once? If you can choose between a thirty-minute train ride, during which you can read, and a twenty-minute drive, during which you cannot, does the drive save ten minutes? Does it make sense to say that it saves ten minutes from your travel budget while removing ten minutes from your reading budget? (KL 2968-2975)
Tomorrow I’ll add some of my own reflections on Faster at its relationship to Lent.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus