But sometimes, it leads us astray in the long run. Oftentimes, when our society has major failures, they’re not technological failures. They’re failures that happen when we made decisions too quickly on autopilot.
We didn’t do the creative or critical thinking required to connect the dots or weed out false information or make sense of complexity. That kind of thinking can’t be done fast. That’s slow thinking.
Two psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, started pointing this out back in 1974, and we’re still struggling to do something with their insights.
But all of modern history can be thought of as one spurt of acceleration after another. It’s as if we think if we just speed up enough, we can outrun our problems. But we never do. We know this in our own lives, and policymakers know it, too.
So now we’re turning to artificial intelligence to help us make faster and smarter decisions to process this ever-expanding universe of data.
But machines crunching data are no substitute for critical and sustained thinking by humans, whose Stone Age brains need a little time to let their impulses subside, to slow the mind and let the thoughts flow.
If you’re starting to think that we should just hit the brakes, that won’t always be the right solution. We all know that a train that’s going too fast around a bend can derail, but Seifu, the engineer, taught me that a train that’s going too slowly around a bend can also derail.
So managing this spurt of acceleration starts with the understanding that we have more control over speed than we think we do, individually and as a society.
Sometimes, we’ll need to engineer ourselves to go faster. We’ll want to solve gridlock, speed up disaster relief for hurricane victims or use 3D printing to produce what we need on the spot, just when we need it.
Sometimes, though, we’ll want to make our surroundings feel slower to engineer the crash out of the speedy experience. And it’s OK not to be stimulated all the time. It’s good for adults and for kids.
Maybe it’s boring, but it gives us time to reflect. Slow time is not wasted time. And we need to reconsider what it means to save time. Culture and rituals around the world build in slowness, because slowness helps us reinforce our shared values and connect. And connection is a critical part of being human.
We need to master speed, and that means thinking carefully about the trade-offs of any given technology. Will it help you reclaim time that you can use to express your humanity? Will it give you hurry sickness? Will it give other people hurry sickness?
If you’re lucky enough to decide the pace that you want to travel through life, it’s a privilege. Use it.
You might decide that you need both to speed up and to create slow time: time to reflect, to percolate at your own pace; time to listen, to empathize, to rest your mind, to linger at the dinner table.
So as we zoom into the future, let’s consider setting the technologies of speed, the purpose of speed and our expectations of speed to a more human pace.