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The Living Room Me and society How fast is too fast?
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How fast is too fast?
The topic on The Great Gatsby has me churning over the word speed. Speed has propelled progress since the invention of the wheel. You would think after the thousands of years since that innovation we would have reached maxspeed, but no we haven't, we still measure success in how timely (and effectively) accomplish a feat.

Think of the evolution of the cigarette. For centuries people smoked their pipe tobacco and thought lazily next to the river (or whatever it is you do while smoking a pipe). Then came the cigar which made the whole process more efficient. No longer did you need to carry tobacco separatly you merely needed the strike of a match. But unfortunately the river is gone and now the smoker is in a velvet armchair next to a fireplace with a glass of scotch. Next of course is the cigarette. Shocking. A small little stick that comes in packs and can be sucked down all day instead of air.  One after another after another. Not next to a river or in an armchair, but anywhere. All in all not a bad evolution. Makes sense right?

But when does speed become dangerously fast? (excess) Is there a point where we might be putting ourselves and our children into a dangerous situation by encouraging efficiency above all else? The recent mass over-diagnosing of ADHD might be some sort of indication that we are moving too fast. Is it any coincidence that the drugs prescribed for ADHD are colloquially known as 'speed' when taken recreationally?

How do we not become the bad passengers Hanna describes in her post? Maybe it is only a matter of focusing and being able to give all our attention to the road. As the automobile of progress continues on its more-or-less reckless journey, how do we minimalize accidents along the way? I saw online a prototype for a car with a virtual windshield. By this I mean the driver can chose to theme his drive say as underwater. In this mode the cars on his windshield become giant fish traveling past him on a road that is submerged in water. Who in the world ever conceived that as a good idea?

Maybe I am just worried about progress. progress has always been ripe with peril. And maybe I am only realizing it now because of how quickly we are moving forward. It seems like everyday we're adding new drivers to the road, and by the numbers only, that means more accidents. I'm sorry if all these metaphors are hard to follow but I am having some trouble clearly defining my anxiety about it all.  It just feels to me as if with the haste of everything around me I am being pushed forward against my will. While I'd prefer to take a leisurely pace and move forward at my own comfortable speed, I feel as if the direction of society forces me into a jog.

How do we set our own paces in a such a fast-paced world?
The example that you gave, Clark, about virtual windshields is quite astonishing. I've never heard or seen anything like it.

I agree with much of what you say. The past 100 years alone have seen more change than the past 3 or 4 centuries. If the Renaissance had one prominent style of painting for several centuries, we've had dozens in the past 80 years. Change will always have its perils and that is a fact we have to make peace with because of the simple idea that this change is coming from people, and it is what many people want. Even in the case of the windshield product, if people perceive it as a negative rather than a positive, it won't last and we'll resort to our old, bland and simple windshield. Progress, good or bad, is the rule of the majority, technically.

Now you might be asking, can we do something to slow down this speed? Or, SHOULD we do something to slow down this speed? And the answer is: Well....hmmmm. The world will always have a place for those of us who don't want to run at full speed. And you don't have to follow the crowd. You need to simply build your own race track and set the speed minimum at 45 minutes/mile, watch people run, and enjoy a couple of laughs every now and then. You take a couple of months is some Greek village, never smoke those cigarettes, never use those bizarre windshields, and do what makes sense to you and you only.

Either way, you have to answer this: Are you afraid of change, or the speed of change?
Wise words Dalal. It's a fair question you pose at the end but it's not change that bothers me, it is the speed of it all. I desire change, but not at a speed I can't handle. I want to watch the change occur so I can put together the line that bridges the past to the present. And the danger I see of our societies that move so quickly is that as soon as something new comes along it is gone and we're left with a gaping hole where we forget its significance.

I'm thinking of the news in particular. Nothing stays in the headlines longer than 2 days. The big events of last year are already fading out of the back of my head, hell even the events from last month are. When the world moves so fast I find it hard to put my feet on the ground and think about what they're doing there. What does it mean that people are rising up in Iran? What about Georgia and Russia? CIA waterboarding and secret prisons? Israel and Palestine? The way news pops up and disappears is overwhelming, so overwhelming that it's hard to read it and even care about it when the media forgets the stories almost as soon as they crop up. 

We work and we work and we work and we forget why we work. With the tide of technology almost every person in the western world is always 5 minutes away from their work, as long as they have a computer right? It seems that the world moves so fast that 5 years ago feels no different than today, even 10 years ago feels as familiar as yesterday. But it's not true. The world was spectacularly different before 9/11 but I forget. And maybe I'm worrying about nothing, maybe progress has always felt that way, like you're always at the tip. But maybe I'm justified in worrying and maybe we are teetering dangerously over the edge and have the fall to look forward to. Could the economic meltdown have been merely the foreshadowing of something far greater? I am not a soothsayer so tomorrow I'll wake up and forget this post and forget how fast I'm walking to work and forget that the world I'm going to sleep in tonight is not the same one as tomorrow. 

Maybe we need to remind ourselves that it's impossible to move at the speed of light...
I think that the danger of speed is that we can’t always control the outcome. On the other hand, if we had the time to reflect on what changes are needed and what the outcomes of those changes will mean in terms of their benefits and detriments, I assume we would be left with less inventions (though maybe some better ones).

Though I agree with you, Dalal, about the windshield example as a change that may or may not last in connection with people’s approval, I feel like Clark that the speed of inventions is a dangerous one, and men are liable to adopt many changes that will make them unhappy. What is disturbing in many cases, is that the reason behind them is not determined by the wish to improve and progress, but rather by the desire of gain.


(This also reminded me of: The vortex)
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Latest Post: August 18, 2009 at 5:57 AM
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