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Time to slow down?

by Mr B. 

Posted: 05 January 2005
Word Count: 979
Summary: A draft of something I can't quite get my head round!

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Three elements seem to characterise human development in the early twenty-first century: technological advancement, sociological attitudes and Time. An example of this could be seen during George Bush’s election campaign where every new Democratic election broadcast was seen and countered in less time than it took me to power up my computer. Of these three elements, considerable amounts have been written about the first two. This might be because we have a curiosity about what gadgets may influence our lives in the future, or because we have a need to watch ourselves and understand why we do what we do. Time it seems has been neglected and it does seem to have an image problem. It is seen as either dusty and archaic, like the workings of a grandfather clock, or at the higher echelons of mathematics, too complex to be explored with the average person’s intellect. Perhaps we try and ignore it because it has an erosive effect on everything around us. Nothing really gets better the longer it exists. It may, in instances like Life and Technology, contribute to an evolutionary process which leads to a greater good. It doesn’t stop each element within that evolution from becoming obsolete or dying.

Where is our relationship with Time going? Is the relationship one of love or hate? These questions came to me, not in the cloisters of an academic institution nor in a local library. They arose out of a simple situation I find myself in every day – waiting at a set of traffic lights. As they changed from red to green a vehicle shot through the junction in front of me. Had I accelerated quickly there would have been a crash. Of that I have no doubt. My response was fairly typical. I drove off, attempting to make eye-contact with the reckless driver, while mouthing the most offensive, least ambiguous language I could think of.

I wondered afterwards what had made me feel such animosity towards this unknown person and settled on two factors. First, I had expected a car to jump the light and had anticipated with resignation if not glee the opportunity to verbally abuse a complete stranger; second, the vehicle had not been a car, it had been a bus. The passengers expected to reach their destinations within a reasonable margin of error, not spending a night in hospital. The only explanation for such wanton disregard towards the highway code by an operator of public transport is the presence of a bomb designed to go off if the speed of the vehicle dropped.

Not wanting to fuel the ‘life imitating film’ debate I needed another theory as to why this driver put his charges, and myself, at risk. The purpose of amber on a set of traffic lights is to provide motorists with a warning they should prepare to stop. At some point, because red meant stop, amber became a signal for some motorists to accelerate and thereby avoid stopping. Nowadays this seems to be fairly standard practice and God help any pedestrians taking a premature step. Now there are an increasing number of vehicles jumping the red light because to stop and wait is seen as an unacceptable delay. The margin between the light turning red and a vehicle continuing through it appears to be increasing. These drivers are, I would hope, not suicidal idiots so why do they do it?

I believe it is simply the next step in our temporal evolution where, to put it plainly, the fastest are the ones who survive. Hasn't that always been the case? The greatest leaps we have made as a species have resulted from being able to do things faster. The Renaissance was built on the speed with which texts could be produced. The Battle of Britain was won because of the precious time Radar gave to counter Nazi raids. As time has passed the effects have accelerated. The Industrial Revolution valued the concept of time as much as it did steam power. Henry Ford seized on the idea that if you make it simple you make it faster and his production lines ensured that demand for motor cars was satisfied. The success of the fast food industry was made possible by reducing cooking to its most basic blocks.

Two problems emerge out of this. First of all, individuality goes out of the window. The Model-T rolling off the production line was identical to the ones in front and behind it. The chicken nuggets you have in a fast food franchise in New York will taste identical to the ones you have in the franchise in Sydney - I know! The second problem is that people are not bothered. Worse, we have become addicted to this acceleration. Our disappointment and frustration grows the longer we are kept waiting for something.

What concerns me is this process cannot keep going. There are certain absolutes you have to accept, points that can’t be crossed. People are beginning to worry about what will happen when the silicon chip reaches its limit, no-one's thinking about what will happen when we hit this temporal singularity?

We have gone from an appreciation of craftsmanship with a long creation time, through ‘fast’ things, where we get something more quickly even if it is less satisfactory. We are now at the 'Just In Time' stage where if we want something it is assembled as the demand is expressed. What next? Is it possible to have something even faster than it is to want it? Unfortunately this is where my IQ packs up and goes home. The philosophical, sociological and mathematical giants pounding my brain defeat me. I can see something, but I can’t quite understand it much less articulate it. It looks like the gridlock of a junction where no-one bothers to look because they’re addicted to being at their destination.

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Comments by other Members

Bianca at 15:28 on 06 January 2005  Report this post
Hi Mr.B

This piece got me thinking on the three subjects you mention. They are all very different but tied together through our lives in this and the latter part of the last century.

Whether we love or hate technology, most of us accept it as part of what is considered progression and use it if we can or must. For the most part, I fall into the latter group but I guess I want my cake and eat it as if it is something I cannot handle, I decide it is not a good thing.

Sociological attitudes seem to have evolved without my giving too much thought to it but sometimes I find myself talking as my parents did, when I was a teenager in the 60’s. This surprises me as I felt then, as most of us did, that we would be accommodating when we were older. That said, when we are young we think we are immortal.

Time, though, is something quite different as far as our thinking is concerned. We can’t say “I won’t have a birthday for 10 years” like we can say “I won’t have a mobile phone”. Nothing we do cannot involve it. We work, travel, shop, play, think, read, eat, cook, clean etc. etc. Our outlook may change as we grow older. When we are kids, we have no concept of being as old as 20, let alone 50 or more. True, we are not “old” at 50 as our parents were but our outlook, clothes, and cosmetic surgery cannot hide the fact that time has aged us. Time it seems, rules our lives.

I was intrigued about the situation that brought about your thoughts. I have never thought as deeply about it as you did when the “near miss” happened to you. “The fastest are the ones to survive.” I’m not sure about this – sometimes yes, but not always. Some situations must need some thought – there we go “time to think” again.

I am quite conscious that sometimes I am wishing my life away – planning for next year, wishing winter would end and so on. This brings me back to your last few lines - “It looks like the gridlock of a junction …….”

I really can't argue on that point.

Thanks for the piece. It really got me thinking.


Mr B. at 11:10 on 07 January 2005  Report this post
Thanks for the comments, Shirley.

As an interesting footnote to the piece a collegue of mine said they had been travelling on a bus recently. An old lady was standing up but was knocked over when the bus breaked suddenly at traffic lights - the driver apolgised saying he would have ran the red, but there was a police car behind him! Another casualty of living in the fast lane!



after the driver apolgised he apologised! He would also have run the red.

Richard Brown at 11:03 on 12 January 2005  Report this post
As Shirley says; thought-provoking. As you suggest, the days of 'time you old gypsy man' have given way to 'time you mysterious entity'. It's true, I'm sure, that there is a needless emphasis on 'saving time'and also that, as Shirley comments, there is a danger of 'wishing life away'. We often rush, becoming stressed and furious, to reach some place and then find, when we get there, that there isn't much to do. (The one thing that I took from that erstwhile popular book 'Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance'is the importance of being realistic about time. It is possible, at least sometimes I find, to control the urge to rush. In this respect, technology helps, I think. Being late for a meeting because of a traffic jam is a lot less tension-creating than it used to be because a quick call on a mobile phone can explain and/or make new arrangements).
If you are thinking of doing further work on the piece I feel it could benefit from some editing. For example, I found the sentence 'Is it possible to have something even faster than it is to want it?' a bit puzzling. I feel, for another example, that the opening paragraph could be punchier.
One last thought - since the piece is about the way attitudes to time have changed, maybe a reference to Einstein and relativity might be worthwhile; time no longer a safe, solid entity but something which is unnervingly elastic.


Mr B. at 20:54 on 12 January 2005  Report this post
Richard - thanks for the Einstein idea. It's definitely a timely idea worth pursuing.



sue n at 19:09 on 16 January 2005  Report this post
Interesting piece B
Like most of us today I spend alot of time rushing from A to B, cramming in appointments, meeting deadlines etc etc.

When I spent 6 months wandering round the world, time took on a whole different dimension - it became less relevent and therefore there seemed a lot more of it.

I was also constantly struck by the fact that the poorer and less technically advanced a country the happier and more relaxed the people seemed.

The biggest thing I dreaded coming back to and found the hardest to readjust to was the return to the constant consciousness of time and its scarcity.

What are we doing to ourselves and our planet?
Sue n

Account Closed at 15:32 on 16 February 2005  Report this post
Anthony, this one got me thinking too.

you could include Time Management courses in this too as well as internet and email, conference calls, TGVs, education in the womb! However, Concorde doesn't fly anymore and fast food is becoming extremely unfashionable.

I read an article recently which talked about removing all traffic signals in towns so that drivers had to slow down. They would have to make eye contact with pedestrians and other drivers eg at crossroads without traffic lights! It had been tried out in Sweden ( i think) and accidents had reduced but the thought of introducing something like that in France...!!! And British drivers have definitely become more aggressive over the last few years, although they still don't break the rules like the French and Italians.


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