She believes we have found a hyper accelerated alternative to almost every human activity – from working to communicating to travelling to dating to transacting to entertaining and more. The idea seems to be how to cram in more into every waking hour as she calls it. She begins her talk saying, “To my generation of Americans, speed feels like a birth right. Our minimum speed is Mach 3. Anything less, and we fear losing our competitive edge. But even my generation is starting to question whether we’re the masters of speed or if speed is mastering us.”
As an anthropologist at the Rand Corporation, Bouskill says that while many anthropologists study ancient cultures, she focuses on modern day cultures and how humans are adapting to all this change happening in the world. She is interested in how people are adapting to acceleration and its security and policy implications. She asks us what our world could look like in 25 years if the current pace of change keeps accelerating? “What would it mean for transportation, or learning, communication, manufacturing, weaponry or even natural selection? Will a faster future make us more secure and productive? Or will it make us more vulnerable?”
Bouskill says, our bodies are not exactly primed to adapt to the kind of speed that the modern world demands. She refers to this as the widening gap between our biology and our lifestyle. She believes that with every subsequent invention – be it the supersonic aeroplane, or the roller-coaster or even fast cars, we have responded with answers like jet-lag, motion sickness and giddiness. Bouskill also talks about the transition time between technologies. She says, “It took 85 years from the introduction of the telephone to when majority of Americans had phones at home. In contrast, it only took 13 years for most of us to have smartphones.”
The anthropologist firmly believes that slowness as an aspect of culture needs to be brought back. And she has good reason too as she says the aspect of deliberation or spacing out our reactions, allows us to take things slow and permits a period of reflection. Thinking slow or slowing down our experiences doesn’t imply that we are wasting our time. Like she says, “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 empathise, to rest your mind, to linger at the dinner table.” She leaves us with a note informing us that as we zoom into the future, we must consider setting the technologies of speed, the purpose of speed and our expectations of speed to a more human pace.
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SYNOPSIS: Why does modern technology promise efficiency, but leave us constantly feeling pressed for time? Anthropologist Kathryn Bouskill explores the paradoxes of living in a fast-paced society and explains why we need to reconsider the importance of slowing down in a world that demands go, go, go
NOTEWORTHY: She began her research at the lab bench before developing an interest in how our health is shaped as much by our biology as it is by our behaviours and social and cultural contexts. Today, she is an anthropologist at the Rand Corporation and associate director of the Rand Center for Global Risk and Security