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Life In The Slow Lane

By Allan Eastman

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Time On The Line

Business watch and one hundred dollar bill

The idea that Time is Money became woven into the way things work and that Speed is a good thing.

©iStockphoto.com/Oleg Shipov

It was always in the nature of the Industrial Revolution to make things go faster. It meant that the factory owners could make more profits if the factory workers could produce more goods to sell in less amount of Time. Each new invention – from the Spinning Jenny and the Cotton Gin to our present day doubling of CPU processing power every 18 months – is designed to accelerate productivity and boost output. Growth for growth’s sake became the underlying principle of commerce.

The idea that Time is Money became inexorably woven into the way things work and a cultural bias built up that Speed, in and of itself, was a good thing. The word “Slow” came to be a synonym for “stupid.” People who could do things faster tended to be economically rewarded and a value system was created where a $400 an hour Lawyer is just assumed to be a far better Attorney than a $200 an hour one.

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What Speed in the workplace essentially does is to compress Time and a whole new Time concept had been forced onto society. A seasonally based cyclical Time conception which allowed some leisure between busy periods of planting and harvesting was replaced by a Time conception which drew no distinction between winter and summer or day or night. Time became calibrated into tiny units of measurement which scheduled all activities and the system required constant labor.

A fundamental change occurred in the late 19th century with the identification and implementation of so called Time Management. Its purpose was to determine the smallest amount of Time that any activity might require and then force all aspects of the entire system to run at that pace. This came to be called “efficiency” but what it really did was formalize the primacy of the machine and the system’s needs over human considerations.

Rolling on into the 20th century, these methods and assumptions spread throughout the planet and became near universal. And then, the Digital Revolution accelerated the process again. Life got faster and faster and society frowned upon anyone judged to be less productive than their high paced competitors.

The idea of Speed drove everything forward and eventually, the problems began to mount. Speed pushed human commerce to the point where the exhaustion of the planet’s resources began to outstrip its ability to replenish itself. Fish stocks in the Oceans are seriously depleted, oxygen providing forests are disappearing and the prime energy source for most of our economic expansion – Oil – is apparently going to be pretty much gone in the next few decades. As a result of high speed economic expansion, the world’s ecosystem has become seriously polluted. We’ve begun to understand these problems and have started to seek solutions but results so far are minimal and sketchy but at least, we’ve made a start.

On the human level, the culture of Speed has had many negative effects to go along with the positives of relative wealth. Increasing levels of stress from the work place and its complimentary 24/7 lifestyle literally makes some individuals ill or neurotic. People are dissatisfied with their personal lives. Situations where one’s needs aren’t gratified immediately enough bring on impatience, irritability, anger and rage. We work such long hours to earn the money to buy the things that consumerism tells us will make us happy and then we find that this happiness is transient and short-lived. We still feel like we are missing out on something.

Like Quality of Life, for example.

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