Do you struggle to keep up with it all?

Is the pace of life getting faster and faster? Do you struggle to keep up with everything around you? Should you? And, what impact is that having on learning?

It’s not uncommon to hear that the pace is getting higher, and that the increasing acceleration of life and work is a Bad Thing. Interestingly, during discussion this week about whether we require a disconnection from cyberspace to contemplate, I have been moving house so without Internet. Maybe this has given me more time to reflect on the topic, maybe to reflect in a different way, but it has certainly allowed me to consider the impact of the net on speed.

“although there is a noticeable increase in the discourse about acceleration and the shortage of time in recent years, the feeling that history, culture, society, or even ‘time itself’ in some strange way accelerates is not new at all”. (Levy)

This is important. I think we confuse the general acceleration of society with efficiency in working practice. We may feel like we are far busier, have less time for other things than say, our grandparents, but is that actually true? Do we actually just fit in far more because we are able to? My Grandad certainly does more with his time now, but he considers being able to Sky+ the cricket to watch later while he goes out for coffee to discuss what he read in the Daily Mail that morning with his bowling mates to be a positive. He is able to fit in more, but unique to many (maybe because he is retired?) finds it to be a good thing.

A slightly more cynical take on this might be to look at the media and advertising industries.

“increasing levels of consumption are required to foster the production necessary to sustain national economic growth” (Land)

While I am not entirely convinced by this generalisation, we could happily argue that it is in the interests of the leisure industry to make us feel busier, leading us to spend more on activities we would consider relaxing.

“We certainly have a strong intuitive sense of what makes us feel bad, and negative stress and anxiety are usually at the top of the list. ESM researchers believe that when we consciously seek out relaxing fun, we’re usually trying to reverse these negative feelings. When we seek out passive entertainment and low-engagement artifices, we’re using them as a counterbalance to how stimulated and overwhelmed we feel.” (McGonigal)

So, not unreasonable to suggest that promoting a feeling that we are too busy, overworked, etc is of interest to certain industries. Watch an advert for Centre Parcs and you can see it, they can sell more relaxing spa breaks if we feel like we need them.

I think we can also look at this in the reverse. Is it in our own interest to promote a feeling of overwork/stress into our lives to help us justify the time we spend relaxing?

It is not uncommon to go through a day feeling incredibly busy but actually achieving nothing. Strictly speaking, how many of us actually have a high stress job? Certainly not as many that come home in an evening complaining of being too busy, needing a day off, looking forward to the weekend to relax. If I can make myself feel like the day sat scanning barcodes in Asda was high stress I’ll feel far better about putting that massage on the credit card.

I’m of the opinion that the higher pace is something we are creating ourselves. Whether we claim to like it or not, we appear to desire it.

Thinking specifically about work, there are obvious benefits to a higher pace. To take the Land “The faster you go the better… Speed is linked to power” idea in a more positive way we know that to be the case. Levy mentions curing cancer, definitely the faster the better. Many of the contract work we take for ICT systems in schools requires us to take what they are doing, make it faster. No bad thing.

Where the positives of speed start to get harder to argue is when we look at how it impacts contemplation and those higher level thinking skills so desirable to the learning process.

In this area could we argue that the focus on efficiency (which is largely what the requirement of higher speed is about) is a negative for the thought process? I can’t accurately judge if I am thinking in the most effective way for me, maybe it would be faster if the outside world could take on this process for me. This somewhat depends on the kind of thinking I am doing.

Bush came up with two modes of thought which largely boil down to repetitive/routine and deep/original. If we take on the first of these pairs it is obvious that the the faster the better. The first could be automated to a certain degree. So, in thinking mode one the faster the better. Nothing to worry about for our sped up society.

Mode two is really the main focus of the argument though. We go one of two ways:

  1. The increased pressure on us created by the accelerating pace of life is making us feel like we don’t have the time to dedicate to contemplation.
  2. The more efficient methods we have around us to take on the manual tasks buy us more time to contemplate, if we choose to.

Talking specifically about cyberspace, new technologies clearly make it easier and more efficient to collect information. What they don’t do is create the space or time needed to reflect on it. This has to be a conscious decision on the part of the individual. It is of course easier to stick with the mode one thought, it is less challenging after all. We need motivation to do the harder stuff.

There is also something interesting in what proportion of society we actually need to take part in this higher level thinking. In the western world it is clearly a target for all our children to aspire to, something that we actively pursue in our teaching of thinking skills. This doesn’t follow through everywhere though-I heard an education official from a Middle Eastern country speak earlier in the year about how not all citizens need the same level of knowledge/understanding. For him, and his country presumably, it wasn’t desirable to encourage every citizen to get to that top level of learning when so many of them would fill roles in society much below it. Slightly scary concept, but you can see the point.

So, my position on speed. Many of our processes are accelerating, but this is no different to the change the industrial revolution brought to the 18th century manufacturing industry.

However, our view on that acceleration being greater now is significant (if probably inaccurate). Going faster is desirable, but managing that is hard. It is too easy to slip into a place where we take the lazier, lower level thought process route, blaming the tools and society around us for this. It’s up to us to allocate the time.

Image sources- History of UK speed enforcement by Brizzle born and bred, Relax/1 by Gianluca Neri, Thinking by Gavinzac

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