Time to Usher Out the Fast and the Furious
by Rob Moodie
The Age – National Times. Opinion. January 2, 2010
THE more information we seek, the more unwanted information we receive. The quicker emails are answered, the quicker a response comes shooting back, leaving the inbox just as full. The more demands on our time, the greater the focus on the urgent rather than the important. Welcome to the hyper-communication age.
The to-do list seems to fill up more quickly than before and there’s been a concurrent decrease in the time available to do what needs to be done. We are tyrannised by the to-do list, and also by the to-worry-about list and the to-feel-guilty-about list. As our inboxes overload and our lists expand, we get more irritable and more anxious.
New information technologies give unbounded access to information, instant communication and instant gratification, with the answers at our fingertips. Yet as our expectations of an instant response increase, a subtle form of time rage arises — why aren’t they answering the phone or the text, why haven’t they answered my email straight away, or my comment on Facebook? Why do I have to wait so damn long for the computer to fire up or to download this document?
Time rage comes from an insidious mix of ego (my desires and my needs) and the demands of time (I have to get an answer immediately or I need to get this piece of information ASAP). Just as it is on our roads with car rage and even cyclist rage — get in my way and you will pay!
Instant communication can have its real pluses: knowing where our partners, friends and children are can be very reassuring. But wanting to know where they are all the time may just be fuelling, rather than dampening, our anxieties. Did Marco Polo’s mum fret because he didn’t text every day?
At a recent seminar, senior state and federal bureaucrats were asked to indicate if they read their emails before 7am and after 10pm. Eighty per cent of hands went up, and those who didn’t admit to this looked rather sheepish. Such is the intrusion of the non-here-and-now into our lives. How many fathers and mothers do you see on their mobiles while pushing the pram, or diners texting or phoning while eating out? We can continually escape the present by jumping to somewhere or someone else.
But when is it too much? Does hyper-connectivity start to destroy the here and now? Well, many people certainly think it does. One response is the Slow movement. Its origins are attributed to the Slow Food movement, begun in Piazza di Spagna in Rome, in 1986, by journalist Carlo Petrini in reaction to the opening of a well-known fast-food store.
The movement also embraces Slow Travel, Slow Cities, Slow Schools, Slow Books, Slow Living, Slow Money, Slow Parenting and even Slow Sex. I think we need slow driving and slow cycling.
According to Carl Honore, author of In Praise of Slow, the philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. “It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed, savouring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.”
Another similar manifestation of the crowding and hastening of our lives is the clutter syndrome. It is when we have too much, we’ve bought too much, and we sink beneath the debris and the walls start to close in us. Thus the clutter-free movement was born — to liberate us from an overburdened home or office, not just an overburdened inbox or answering service.
Like most things, new communications technologies have upsides and downsides — the feeling about wanting to get out of the rat race kicks in when we lose control. You know when this happens when you experience rising levels of anxiety. But how can we get control? It is tough — unfortunately it seems to require discipline and, paradoxically, it demands time — time to stop, reflect, to turn off.
Perhaps when sending emails, just as we now add an environmental reminder to discourage the recipient from printing the email, we could add another: “Please consider your own time constraints and emotional health before sending a response to this email.”
For the new year, take just a moment to reflect on the Slow Movement’s manifesto: “If you can slow down when all around you are speeding up, then you’re one of us. Be proud that you are one of us and not one of them. For they are fast, and we are slow. If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing slowly. Some are born to slowness — others have it thrust upon them. And still others know that lying in bed with a morning cup of tea is the supreme state for mankind.”
Professor Rob Moodie is chairman of global health at the University of Melbourne’s Nossal Institute.