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.


Mike Hoth said...

Entertainment technology is a distraction, and one that we rely on more and more. Humans seem to love removing themselves from nature and then wonder why we are getting dumber! It's supposed to be 60 degrees all this week, but I have yet to see anybody else enjoying the weather. We're always in a rush because we can't miss our favorite television show or the Super Bowl, played on artificial turf in a concrete bowl. Or perhaps we can't miss the commercials for Doritos and Taco Bell?

It's telling that the only other people I run into when I go to the park to enjoy nature and just sit are retired (or on furlough, I do run into teachers in the summer) because they have no rush to attend to. We'll talk about how amazing trees are when you really think about how complex they are while joggers go past us looking at their phones and listening to music. We need to slow down.

Anne in Salem said...

Sometimes the speed comes from not enjoying what one is doing, rushing to get to the enjoyable activities of the day. I am an impatient driver because I do not like driving. I want to get it over with a quickly as possible so I can get to wherever I am going. My friend says I don't shop, I buy. True. I have a list, I purchase what is on the list and rarely tarry in an area of the store not on my list. Why? I generally don't like shopping. I want to get it over with and get to something better, whether it's reading or visiting or cooking or watching a movie with the kids.

Relative to thinking about what type of society I want and understanding what it means to be human, I could think about it constantly for a year and never know the answer better than I already do. Half the answer comes from my faith and the other half is a resounding "Dunno" and never will. I'm okay with that. I'd rather make dinner and debate how much control the person paying the commission to the artist is allowed to exert over the final product (today's topic).

Sriram Khé said...

"I could think about it constantly for a year and never know the answer better than I already do"
It is not about finding a solution to the problem in the shortest period of time ... I believe in thinking about this until we can no longer think--death. Of course, like you mention, plenty of people outsource that thinking to organized religions. But, ...

"Entertainment technology is a distraction"
The links in the follow-up post today will make you worry that it is more than a mere distraction--they are designed to be addictive. This addiction means that even if the person is right there in the park on a sunny day, they could not be really there because mentally they are in the gadget world and not in nature ... the talk that I have embedded there has more on this ...

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