Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000

#10, August 12, 1998


by Marylaine Block

I recently came across a line from Shakespeare, "The spirit of the time shall teach me speed." And as is so often the case with Shakespeare's lines, I thought, "How did he KNOW?" That's OUR era he's talking about, not his, when an army moving full speed could travel ten miles on a good day.

More and more every day, speed is what the spirit of our time teaches us -- and if you don't believe it, try driving at the speed limit and start counting how many people are passing you while giving you the one-finger-salute.

Speed is in everything we do. Our urge for the instantaneous, aided by fax machines, e-mail, and overnight delivery, has turned regular mail into snail mail and nearly put the post office out of business.

We so take for granted our ability to travel in 3 hours a distance that Lewis and Clark covered in a year that we book our flight connections with split-second timing. If the airline fails to deliver us on time, we sputter and fume.

We don't need to spend hours preparing meals anymore, because we have frozen meals, soup starter, hamburger helper, and the like. We have even bred a new strain of yeast that lives and dies faster so those of us who still bake bread don't have to wait around as long for the dough to rise.

We don't need to spend time waiting in restaurants, either, because we have an entire industry devoted to fast food, delivered immediately as we stand at the counter. What's more, we don't even have to waste time parking and going into the restaurant -- we can place our order at an outdoor microphone and a few seconds later pick it up at the drive-through window.

When USA Today started up, operating on the assumption that we no longer had the time or patience to read long news stories, it became an instant hit, forcing other newspapers to imitate its "News Lite" style. Most magazines and newspapers on the internet follow suit, assuming readers will not bother with any item that takes more than two minutes to digest.

We don't need to wait for our news anymore, either, because information travels faster than everything else. We get news throughout the day on radio and the internet, and by the time we're home, the evening news is already old hat. Increasingly television news interrupts regular broadcasts to give us instantaneous coverage of real events -- which often enough are high-speed chases.

Then there is the internet itself, which by its very speed breeds impatience. We have become people who, if the site does not download within 5 seconds, say the hell with it, and click on something else.

There's even a new software package out now, designed to automatically provide entertainment while we're waiting for the download, because we spend 25 hours a YEAR just waiting for what we've clicked on.

It is possible that our taste for speed has something to do with our divorce rate, because relationships are among those few remaining things that do not come in instant form. A marriage is made up of the time devoted to listening to each other, enjoying things together, working through the hard stuff together. It takes time to adapt to each other, to make ourselves a little less an individual, a little more a partner in a joint enterprise.

It could also be that speed interferes with just enjoying our world. Remember the 59th Street Bridge Song? "Slow down, you're moving too fast. You got to make the morning last." When's the last time you were just looking for fun and feeling groovy?

If the grid crashes again, knocking out our electricity, our computers, our phone lines, our instantaneous communication, it will mess up our lives for a while. But it might just be an opportunity to rethink speed. The spirit of that time may end up teaching us to measure our time by how well we spend it, not how quickly.

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