I was at a large department store this weekend and I stopped to take close notice of everyone around me. Without exception, the dozens to hundreds of people walked quickly, aisle to aisle, and searched through clothes almost as frantically as monkeys pick through brush when eating berries.
At the cash register, it was more of the same: An impatient line was headed by a cashier who worked as fast as possible to complete transactions and get people out the door. Salutations were a terse, monotonous formality. Once a shopper's prize catch was paid for and bagged, the shopper typically quickly walked out the door into the crowded parking lot to his or her car and drove away -- typically in an apparent rush. Vrooom! Off they went. And this was on a Saturday.
Next, traffic on the roads was rushed, too. This has become commonplace around the D.C./Northern Virginia area. If the traffic light is green for two seconds and you're not moving, you get the horn. And half the time, the horn comes from a person who's on a cell phone while driving, too!
"The Rushing of America" isn't just happening in shopping centers and on our streets. It seems that a rushed pace is increasingly becoming the norm in our country -- at least in any area that isn't rural countryside. Partly at fault is the strong economy (it makes many people chase opportunities more, rather than slow down and enjoy themselves), along with technology. Technology has greatly increased the pace of our lives, often in ways that we don't even think about.
In the past, even at large stores, the clerks would need to read the prices on your products and enter them in the register. It took time. You expected it to take time. You slowed down and you watched it happen; maybe you even enjoyed it. Now, with scanners in place, you expect the check-out to be incredibly quick. In fact, now you often start to pay your bill with your ATM or credit card before the total amount is even tallied.
A constant barrage of information makes many people's lives feel more rushed, too. Information speeds around the world in seconds, and meanwhile, many people are connected to a telephone at nearly all times. Watching these people, you have to wonder, do people control technology, or does technology control people? Most people using a cell phone appear to be trained by the phone, rather than the other way around. And it's interesting how a ringing cell phone immediately becomes several times more important than the physical person that the phone owner is speaking to when the phone rings.
Next, the Internet, as much as it brings convenience, brings considerable burden, too: e-mail and information overload are always on-hand, waiting for you. First, maybe you feel that you must read certain online content regularly or you're missing out. So, every night you take time to sign on, and often you spend more time online than you thought you would, and when you're finished you're not sure what you actually accomplished. Also, do you control your e-mail, or does it push you around? Is e-mail consuming more and more of your time, while offering lower "payback" or satisfaction than it had in prior years?
Overall, I'm beginning to believe that many people (myself included) don't only become trained to depend on their technology, but they become their technology. In the Zen sense that you are only what you experience, many of us are becoming "cyberpeople" at the expense of being real, physical people out in the world -- just as many people I know have "become" nightly television shows the past decade. TV is what they "do" every night, so it is what they are every night.
This is all somewhat frightening to watch unfold if you're like me and you generally prefer the outdoors to the indoors, and face-to-face conversation rather than chat rooms, camp fires rather than blue-glowing computer screens, real sunsets rather than colorful screen savers, and outdoor activity that causes your pulse to rise, rather than online video games.
So, today's motif is this: Like a Fool, I'm purposely slowing down, going against the grain, taking my own route. I don't want to be swept up in this wave of new technology. I don't want to define the present and the future by technology advances alone. If I did, what would I have to offer in 2020? (Do automobiles thrill you now, the way they did people in the 1920s? So, imagine explaining 1990s technology to people in 2020.)
If you have felt rushed, or if you have forgotten that the outdoors can be nice, too, and that living is not a race but should be enjoyed as much as possible, then slow down, Fool. Slow down.
--Jeff Fischer, TMF Jeff on the boards.