Monday, February 08, 2016

Life in the fast lane

Back when I was in graduate school, my apartment mate--who was pursuing a doctorate in marketing--always argued in favor of efficiency and speed.  He was a good debater too, which made my thinking life both interesting and difficult.  But, he never managed to convince me about the primacy of efficiency and speed over everything else in life.

Whether it is on the road or in the kitchen, I am not a speed guy.  Life in the slow lane suits me just fine.  Which is all the more why the opener in this essay appealed to me, a lot:
More than 40 years ago, as a young woman in Melbourne, Australia, I had a pen friend in Papua New Guinea. She lived in a coastal village, an hour’s slow boat trip from the city of Lae. I went to visit her. The abundant tropical fruit, vegetables such as taro and sweet potato, and fish fresh from the sea made up for the mosquitoes that plagued me. No one was in a rush to do anything.
We spent an entire day making coconut milk. I suggested a different way to squeeze the coconut flesh that would allow us to make the milk faster. The young New Guineans looked quizzical. Making coconut milk always took a whole day. There was no hurry, they said. Today I see my interest in saving time and increasing productivity as a peculiar and interesting cultural eccentricity.
Now, I admit that I could not adjust to the pole pole pace in Tanzania, where everything seemed to unfold in the slowest speed.  It is not that I love, love a slow life, but seem to have my own pace that is faster than the speed in traditional cultures but slower than, heck, every other person in the US

What exactly are we trying to do with this obsession with speed?  As much as we are obsessed with speed, we are also the same people who complain about not having enough time to do everything within the 24 hours of the day.  We are one interesting species!
Are digital technologies at all complicit in our sense of time pressure?
Emails coming in all the time at work.  Text messages from friends and family. Facebook. Twitter. So much so that there are people who actually prefer Soylent over slow-cooked regular food!  Why the subservience to speed and the digital gods?
Human beings build the present and imagine the future with tools designed for certain purposes, and there are more reasons than ever to think about what kind of society we want those tools to advance.
Damn right!  

Articulating what kind of society we want will require us to understand what it means to be human, what it means to belong to humanity, and what it means for us to belong in this cosmos.  But, apparently we do not have the time for all those questions!

It is not that I want to return to a slow life that existed before all these modern technological tools.  But, I can't help wonder why we do not see these as mere tools--a set of tools that we could put to use for a much bigger, richer, understanding of life and its meaning.

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