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FASTER by James Gleick

FASTER

The Acceleration of Just About Everything

By James Gleick

Pub Date: Sept. 9th, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-40837-1
Publisher: Pantheon

In a hurry? This book will tell why—and how our times became so time-obsessed. After a visit to the Directorate of Time, the US agency responsible for determining the exact time, Gleick (Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman, 1992, etc.) examines that symbol of the man in a hurry, the Type A personality. As it turns out, the study that gave us that symbol was badly flawed, and yet the symbol was so apt that it has stuck with us. Time pressure weighs on us all, so that waiting—for anything—has become not an opportunity to look around and see what’s going on, but a nuisance to be gotten out of the way. The “close door” button on the elevator—which may or may not really do anything—is a symbol of that hurry, and it leads to a discussion of elevator technology, which leads to a discussion of how the wristwatch displaced the pocket watch, and how the watch became electronic, and how it has become more than just a timepiece. This free-association organization allows Gleick to cover a wide range of subjects, one short chapter at a time. So we get an examination of H.G. Wells’s Prof. Gibberne, who invented a potion to allow himself to live at high speed, and a history of stop-motion photography, which for the first time allowed the analysis of actions too fast for the eye to grasp in their details. The phrase “real time” comes in for dissection, and Gleick makes the point that it describes something for which we didn’t need a word before the computer made it necessary. The book goes on to examine such modern phenomena as time and motion analysis, the quick-cut editing style of MTV videos, telephone redial buttons, multitasking, and dozens of other fascinating offshoots of our obsession with time. Lively, detailed, and briskly written—this book is a fount of interesting information. Well worth your time.