For several years I’ve been intrigued by my own perception of time. Part of it is age-related, I’m sure: the older I get, the more time seems to rocket into the future. The harder I try to catch up, the farther it seems out of reach. It’s age and kids and my particular time of life – but I don’t think that’s all it is. Part of this feeling that I’m never caught up, that I’m always behind, is cultural. As a society, our perception of time and the good, of what is instant and what is slow, has changed.
It used to be that the generations differentiated themselves through how much physical effort was required to provide for themselves and their families. Whenever younger generations complained about some perceived hardship, the older generation gave admonitions like, “I used to walk two miles in the snow just to get to school.” Or you heard, “When I was your age, I used to haul hay bales from sunup to sundown,” as a way to put an end to whining over having to engage in anything physical that didn’t involve a sports team. Then technology advances shifted the scope and breadth of physical labor. Over the last half of the past century labor and manufacturing jobs shifted into information, technology, and service jobs. Technology fueled the change as machinery was conceived, constructed, and utilized to replace physical effort. A discontinuity developed between what different generations thought of as a “hard day’s work,” or how each defined a “hardship.”
Now technology has caused yet another similar generational shift. Today, though, it’s not about effort; it’s about time. Instead of a difference between how physical work or effort is perceived due to advances and innovations in technology, the shift in the perception of time is perceived due to advances and innovations in technology. We have entered into a new sort of time warp.
Our expectations about time have become warped. Our culture drives the need for speed, and the need for speed drives our culture. Technology fuels this circular momentum. We demand speed from technology, and when it delivers, it alters our perception of fast and slow and what is good or bad about each. It alters our concept of patience, endurance, and perseverance; it alters our perception of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. The benchmarks have been moved; in fact, the benchmarks themselves are moving at a very fast pace, and our perceptions can barely keep up.
Today’s equivalent of the “walking miles in the snow” complaint is now “we used to have to wait on a dial-up modem.” I already talked about how strange it must be to this youngest generation that you had to wait to make a phone call until you found a phone because you didn’t happen to carry one around in your back pocket. You even had to wait to find a phone book just to know where to go. You had to wait to get to a place where the information waited because you didn’t carry around a device that brought information to you. The startling, disturbing constant in all those scenarios is “you had to wait.” You had to take time. It was slow. The perceived hardship is not getting what you wanted as fast as you can get it now. How did we ever survive?
We survived slowly. And it was good.
The above is excerpted from chapter 7 in #Hooked: The Pitfalls of Media, Technology and Social Networking by Dr. Gregory Jantz.