A philosopher and cultural critic ponders the durability of our fast-tracked, multitasked modern world.
Taylor (Religion and Public Life/Columbia Univ.; Recovering Place: Reflections on Stone Hill, 2014, etc.) probes the time-crunch phenomenon as the rapid acceleration of life nears what he calls its “tipping point.” He identifies the obvious culprit, high-speed technology, which, while enhancing methods and opportunities for communication and information sharing, forces society to compress more into seemingly evaporating parcels of time. While acknowledging the influences of the Protestant Reformation, Industrial Revolution, 19th-century communication inventions (telegraph, telephone), and the evolution of currency and consumer credit as primary instigators of these contemporary changes, it’s their increasingly aggressive pace that most concerns him. With substantiated conviction, Taylor considers whether the fragmenting cultural effects of all of this digital distraction will eventually become an irreversible trend (“the world that speed continues to create is unsustainable”). Emblematic of today’s accelerated lifestyle is the rise of global financial markets and enhanced human-machine interfacing technology like Google Glass, which, while ultramodern and efficient, are also major contributors to this speed-reliant conundrum. Taylor determines that we’ve become not only accustomed to—but addicted to—this time boom, yet he contends that technology can only go as far as real life will allow. He cites instances where leisure time is not even enjoyable for some without access to the “new new thing,” whether it be email, text messaging, or dipping into social media websites for the quick-fix hit of status updates and news factoids. Though he acknowledges that a collective powering-down may prove an overly ambitious goal for modern society, Taylor’s observant thought process inspires and promotes the kind of dramatic cultural change necessary to unplug and reflect.
A timely accompaniment to James Gleick’s Faster (1999), this is a stimulating cautionary report for the digital age.