Bennett's Blog

The unhealthy speed of life

Bennett R. Coles | January 12, 2011

I'd like to say that sitting in a traffic jam for an hour this morning helped me to appreciate the value of slowing down and smelling the roses. Unfortunately, the only thing to smell was diesel exhaust and my left leg began to cramp as I rode the clutch and gave first and second gear an unusually good workout.

But the point isn't lost on me. In my relatively short time in Western society I've seen the rise of cell phones, the internet and a culture of instant gratification. And in the work world, an obsession with using technology to increase efficiency has taken Adam Smith's economic vision to extremes that are now endangering our health.

Remember when we had to wait days - days! - for mail to arrive? And we could only call people when they were physically in their office? And if we wanted three people to get the same message we had to write it out three times? Now we can access pretty much everyone, all the time, all at once. All of the technological advances in communication and data movement were designed to make our lives easier, but all they did was make our lives busier. What we used to accept took a week to accomplish we now demand in hours. Every time we introduce a new time-saving device we don't take that extra time to enjoy life or work: we just try to cram more stuff in.

And this comes with a cost: stress. And all the maladies that come from it. Heart disease, ulcers, depression... In our efforts to make our lives better we are making them worse. But we're too busy to notice.

A reader will notice that the characters in Virtues of War accomplish their tasks at about the same pace as us in the early 21st century, despite their society's obvious technological advances beyond ours. This is deliberate on my part: I believe that we are already pushing our biological limits with the demands of busyness we continue to impose on ourselves. To imagine that humans will continue to process information at an ever-increasing rate is leaving science fiction and entering fantasy.

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