Our Speedy Life

Speed is the one word that typifies the description of our way of life, our society, and future. We lead a hectic, frantic lifestyle at home or work. Everything around us seems to be moving fast or faster. We are required to move at the same pace as others. If we do not, then we are worried about the consequences. The technology of computers, networks, mobile phones, pagers, and the Internet feeds on this lifestyle. Technology has a rapid heartbeat, and yet this is the choice we have made for ourselves. Some of us thrive on it; others do not. Our ability to live, work, and play at this pace can give us a sense of power—a buzz, or feeling of exhilaration. This feeling is similar to what our ancestors felt in the heat of battle.

No one can deny the acceleration in the pace of business life that has happened in the last 50 years—since the evolution of the computer and its associated technology. It is an “instant” society that we live in: instant coffee, instant results, instant replays— ironically shown in slow motion for emphasis—instant gratification. In Japan, some restaurants actually charge by the minute. Patrons are required to eat fast or literally pay the consequences. Our addiction to speed has led us to behave in various ways we may not have otherwise. We are influenced by the actions of the society around us. Consider the following illustrations of these events. Make a note of how many times you have acted in this fashion.

  • We travel fast in our cars on highways or freeways. We change lanes frequently, trying to get ahead of the person driving in front.

  • When entering an elevator, we push the “close door” button—even if someone has entered ahead of us and pushed the button already. As the elevator stops at different floors, there is always the temptation to press the close door button again to ensure that we reach our destination in the shortest time possible.

  • When using a microwave oven, we tend to frantically push the same button twice as the guide to cooking—for example, pressing “2,2” or “3,3” in rapid succession. Our intent is to get the meal cooked as soon as possible.

  • When standing in line at a location, such as a bank or fast food outlet, that has multiple lines, we will switch lines to what we perceive as the fastest moving line to get served as quickly as possible.

  • We choose health care providers, such as doctors or dentists, by how quickly we can get in to see them and how quickly we can receive the treatment.

  • Escalators are designed to transport people from one point to another. Individuals who are apparently in a hurry, and who are not content to allow themselves to be transported at the normal escalator speed, set off to their destination by climbing two or more steps at a time.

Does any of this sound familiar? Psychologists have termed this behavior, “Hurry Up Syndrome.” But with the fast life comes anxiety and ill heath. “Burnout” is a phrase that did not exist thirty years ago. If we cannot act in the same fashion as everyone else or achieve what is expected of us, then we are prone to rapid heartbeats and a rise in blood pressure. Sociologists in several Western countries have come to the conclusion that increasing wealth and education have contrived to create tensions about time and how to spend it. Alvin Toffler caught the essence of speed before the Internet with his landmark book Future Shock, first published in 1970. Then, in 1980, he published The Third Wave, about society based around information technology. The Third Wave Information Society is more than just technology and economics. It is not just “digital” and “networked.” Painful social, cultural, institutional, moral, and political dislocations often accompany our transition from a brute force to a brain force economy.

Adding to this lifestyle is the daily reminder to keep up the pace of life. Companies extol products and services by advertising that “speed is good.” A small selection of those companies is reproduced in Table 5.1 to emphasize this point.

Table 5.1: A Selection of Slogans for a Fast Lifestyle

Name of Company,


American Egg Board

“Think eggs—think fast”


“Fast, fast Relief”


“The Citi never sleeps”


“Three Million A Day” (in 1917)

“Six Million A Day” (in 1925)

Federal Express

“When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight”


“Fifteen minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance”

Kentucky Fried Chicken

“There’s fast food, and then there’s KFC”


“Up to 4 offers in hours”


“Slightly ahead of its time”


“At 60 miles, an hour the loudest noise in the new Rolls-Royce comes from the
electric clock.”

Western Union

“The fastest way to send money”

It appears that even the great American egg is a victim of this fast lifestyle. Speed is important in the digital economy. Take the example of Mr. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of online bookstore Amazon, who is known, for running through the office. He says he is just hyperactive, but there is no denying a fundamental truth of his approach: if you’re going to succeed in today’s business world, you have to move fast. One wonders how many other managers run through the offices at Amazon and how many accidents happen?

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