Hurry Sickness

Westerners live in the age of instaneity. We have instant coffee, instant replay, instant polls, and Instant Messaging--all in the pursuit of instant gratification.

And there are products galore to help us save those precious milliseconds! In your car, you can read your e-mail on your high-speed Palm
Plot (while checking for faxes) as you wolf down some Pop Tarts that you
heated up in the microwave. If you're still hungry, you can grab some frozen waffles from the drive-through at McDonald's (while barking orders to subordinates on your cell phone). At the office, you can punch the elevator
button dozens of times, in the vain hope that the elevator will somehow arrive more quickly.

James Gleick, in FASTER: THE ACCELERATION OF JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING, explores this brave new world of "ever-growing urgency." His research on our 24/7 culture took him to air traffic control centers, medical waiting rooms, film production studios, and the atomic clocks of the Directorate of Time. Gleick argues that the technology-driven Western world has produced a "multi-tasking, channel-flipping, fast-forwarding species."

The acceleration of modern life has many consequences. One is "hurry sickness." In order to speed up their bodies, Americans consume massive amounts of caffeine--which can lead to nervousness, restlessness, and insomnia.

Another effect is workaholism. In the United States, the average work week is now 47 hours--up from 43 two decades ago. A recent Gallup Poll found that 44 percent of Americans consider themselves workaholics.

Gleick notes that "sociologists in several countries have found that increasing wealth and increasing education bring a sense of tension about time. We believe that we possess too little of it; that is a myth we live by now" (p.10).

The acceleration of just about everything has also affected our consideration of public issues. The average "sound bite" on news broadcasts has shrunk to about five seconds, and a television news segment approaching three minutes is considered "long form."

Acceleration also affects our priorities. Nowadays, who has time for carefree lunches or "long walks on the beach"? A 1994 study by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found that Americans' favorite activity is sex. And how much time does the average American devote each day to the cause? Four minutes.

A reminder of the importance of rejecting a hurry-up culture appears on the main drag of Thousand Oaks, California. Every block or so, there are signs reading, "Relax. Slow Down. You're Home."

Published in Hopedance, April 2001.


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