No Time Like the Present

Here’s an article (“Speed Kills”) about one of the downsides of “progress”: the loss of free, unstructured time:

Moore’s Law, according to which the speed of computer chips doubles every two years, now seems to apply to life itself. Plugged in 24/7/365, we are constantly struggling to keep up but are always falling further behind. The faster we go, the less time we seem to have. As our lives speed up, stress increases, and anxiety trickles down from managers to workers, and parents to children.

There is a profound irony in these developments. With the emergence of personal computers and other digital devices in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many analysts predicted a new age in which people would be drawn together in a “global village,” where they would be freed from many of the burdens of work and would have ample leisure time to pursue their interests. That was not merely the dream of misty-eyed idealists but was also the prognosis of sober scientists and policy makers. In 1956, Richard Nixon predicted a four-day workweek, and almost a decade later a Senate subcommittee heard expert testimony that by 2000, Americans would be working only 14 hours a week.

Obviously, things have not turned out that way. Contrary to expectation, the technologies that were supposed to liberate us now enslave us, networks that were supposed to unite us now divide us, and technologies that were supposed to save time leave us no time for ourselves.

I think it should be obvious at this point that I am highly skeptical of almost all new technology—as long as there’s an oligarchy around, just waiting to undemocratically make such technology ubiquitous to serve its own purposes, at the detriment of everyone and everything else. It was Arthur C. Clarke who once said that all sufficiently advanced technology should be indistinguishable from magic, and I agree—except that I don’t apply the rosy connotations that most others do to the notion of “magic” (magical reasoning, more like it). I more agree with Marx, who described technology as a sorcerer’s spell that has become wildly (and dangerously) out-of-hand.

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