Saturday, July 3, 2010

"Faster" by James Gleick

I teach a course on cultural perspectives and issues occasionally. One of the items we discuss is how time is viewed by people from various cultures. Americans, in general, have a very fixed view of time - things are either on time, or they are late. There is little "gray" when it comes to time for monochronic Americans. "Can I meet with with on Friday? Well, let me check my schedule and get back to you."In contrast, some other cultures have a more flexible view of time - there is always more time, like the air we breathe. Many of us are familiar with "Spanish time", or "Arab time", or "African time", or "insert culture here time". Polychronic cultures value people over time and this is why they cannot understand Americans insistence to "get down to business" before getting to know one another.

According to one of our guest speakers, the direct translation of an African language word for "wristwatch" is "tic-tock god", which makes absolute sense if you can imagine an African watching a European (or American) look at his watch, show visible anxiety and then scurry off to do the watch's bidding.

It's interesting stuff. What does this have to do with training? Well, maybe nothing, maybe everything. Forcing progress before proper foundations have been laid can be disastrous - we all know that. On the other hand, sometimes life does not give us the luxury of time, regardless of our personal
views on the subject - as I've said before, sometimes slow and steady is just not fast enough.

No conclusions, just thoughts and I'll leave you with some words from James Gleick (author of Chaos: Making a New Science - another good book):

Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything

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 now live by. What is true is that we are awash in things; in information, in news, in the old rubble and shiny new toys of our complex civilization, and - strange, perhaps - stuff means speed. The wave patterns of all these facts and choices flow and crash about us at a heightened frequency. We live in the buzz. We wish to live intensely, and we wonder about the consequences...

...marketers and technologists anticipate your desires with fast ovens, quick playback, quick freezing, and fast credit. We bank the extra minutes that flow from these innovations, yet we feel impoverished and we cut back - on breakfast, on lunch, on sleep, on daydreams...

...We humans have chosen speed and we thrive on it - more than we generally admit. Our ability to work fast and play fast gives us power. It thrills us. If we have learned the name of just one hormone, it is adrenaline. No wonder we call sudden exhiliration a rush. "Your life is lived with the kind of excitement that your forebears knew only in battle," observes the writer Mark Helprin.  And, "They, unlike you, were the prisoner of mundane tasks. They wrote with pens, they did addition, they waited endlessly for things that come to you instantaneously, they had far less than you do, and they bowed to necessity, as you do not. You love the pace, the giddy, continual acceleration." Admit it - you do! Still, you have not truly explored the consequences of haste in our culture and in our daily lives...

..."Time is a gentle deity," said Sophocles. Perhaps it was, for him. These days it cracks the whip.

- Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything (pp. 10-13)


CI said...

I'll check out that book. It kind of reminds me of "In Praise of Slowness" which was also good.

Nice blog.


Boris said...

Thanks Cate. I haven't read that one, but I'll check it out. Look forward to it.
Some of the content of "Faster" kind of reminds me of "Amusing Ourselves To Death" by Neil Postman (which is good, but not as fun a read).