The other day, near my home I met a young friend of mine, he is in early 40’s. We decided to have Cuppa, in current lingo it is called Cutting Chai. We went to a shack, nothing fancy! In Marathi, we call it टपरी. We ordered our tea, I prefer Sugar free. That was a special order for them. They took a bit of time to bring it. My friend was so uneasy, he asked them three times in five minutes about the delay. I thought maybe he has to go somewhere urgently. I suggested that I skip my tea because of the delay and he was in a hurry. He said that he was not in a hurry; at the same time, he looked at something on his cell phone, a few times. Then I realized that his and later generations have speeded up the clock in their brains as a necessity and also because too much data comes in their direction, too much info due to 24-hour connectivity! Processing has to be done fast.
We already have a lot of slow things around in our lives which make us crazy. Slow internet speeds, slow drivers, slow check-out counter lines. Some of you must have already said, hey Pramod! Say whatever you want to, quickly.
I started wondering why is this happening? Why everybody is in a rush? Human societies were smaller to start with, one went maybe a several hundred meters to work, hunting! Later when the farming started, the communities settled a little far from each other, perimeter of people’s movement increased and distances to travel became more, leading to the start of formation of a modern civilization. The speeds of action and reaction were reasonably slow even during the last century. But things really changed in the last 20 years. During my younger days, there was snail mail carried by the government postal department, there were trunk calls, as long-distance calls were called then. Time was as good as at a standstill in those days, compared to today.
The clock in our brain, that I have talked about, is not a normal counter. Its speed is dependent on how excited we are, how much Adrenalin is flowing in our body, and if we are in fight or flight mode! If we are in any other mode than the normal mode, then the time passes either very slowly or very fast. Consider that you are involved in an accident and you are lucky to escape with a minor injury. The event gets over in say, half hour, our brain might feel that much longer time has passed. You will see that event in slow motion. In April this year, Jaya and I went on a “do nothing” holiday at Manali. We were there for eight days. We had great fun doing nothing. We just sat in the garden soaking in the lovely Sun and absorbing the beautiful snow-capped mountains. We used to eat, sleep, chat, I blogged and Jaya read. We played cards and on one pre-defined day, we went for a spin in a taxi. It was raining hard and the taxi driver asked what will we do during the trip, and getting down from the car was almost impossible. I said, “Don’t worry we have come here to do nothing!” He was surprised. Eight days passed like a zip! Had we been in some difficulty, the eight days would have felt like eight weeks!
Some things which we found efficient in our times are considered extremely slow today. Patience is a virtue which has been vanquished in the Twitter age. Why are we impatient? It’s a heritage from our evolution. Impatience made sure that we didn’t die from spending too long a time, on a single unrewarding activity. It gave us the impulse to act. But that fun of about things moving slowly, has gone. We always want to go for white water rafting, fishing is out of fashion!
The fast pace of society has thrown our internal timer out of balance. It creates expectations that can’t be rewarded fast enough—or rewarded at all. When things move more slowly than we expect, our internal timer plays tricks on us, stretching out the wait, summoning anger out of proportion to the delay.
You send a WhatsApp message to someone and get two blue tick marks, indicating that it has been read. If it is very important, you will look at WA every few seconds to check if you have received a reply. You forget that person could be busy, the person may have gone to the washroom. The person could have just started a presentation after looking at the message.
The link between time and emotion is a complex one. A lot is dependent on expectation—if we expect something to take time then we can accept it. Frustration is often a consequence of expectations being violated. We make the wrong expectations and then feel that we are being cheated by the system.
Society continues to pick up speed. There is information that tells us that the speed of human movement from pre-modern times to now, has increased by a factor of 100. The speed of communications has skyrocketed by a factor of 10 million in the 20th century, and data transmission has soared by a factor of around 10 billion. A study was done in Vienna and Newyork of time taken by people to walk about 20 meters. In Vienna, it was 15 seconds and in Newyork, it was 13 seconds. This survey was done about 30 years back, now the timing must have further reduced. Worldwide walking speed has gone down by 10 to 15%, especially in cities.
One study has shown that exposing people to “the ultimate symbols of impatience culture”—fast-food symbols like McDonald’s golden arches—increases their reading speed and preference for time-saving products, and makes them more likely to opt for small rewards now over larger ones at a later stage.
Our rejection of slowness is especially apparent when it comes to technology. Everything is so efficient these days that we lose our patience very quickly. We now practically insist that Web pages should load in a quarter of a second when we had no problem with two seconds in 2009 and four seconds in 2006. Further research says that as of 2012, videos that didn’t load in two seconds had little hope of going viral on the internet.
Of course, we’re not going to die if a website doesn’t load immediately. But in what we were used to from our olden past—when we could starve if impatience didn’t spur us to act—we get the feeling that if a website does not load in time, we may die! Is it good for humans? The jury is still out.
We had planned to go out and have dinner at a restaurant near our home. An old friend had come to meet us after a long time. We decided to walk the distance of one km to the restaurant. We went at a leisurely pace enjoying my friends’ funny anecdotes, old stories from school days. We both really enjoyed our languid walk to the restaurant. On reaching the restaurant, I became my original self, worried about waiter not serving the soup on time, not bringing a replacement for wrongly served chicken, quickly. Why the change? We are so much used to “fast” and “instant” things that maybe we have forgotten the art of taking things easy and whiling away time in a leisurely fashion! Don’t be surprised to hear a story from one of the doctors that a couple wanted their baby to be born in one month! Jaldi, Jaldi!