So Much to Do, So Little Time
Feeling rushed? You're not alone. We live in a constant state of hurry.
Last week, for example, I was walking across the Furman University
campus when a woman in a jogging suit bumped into me. She breathlessly
yelled over her shoulder, "I'm sorry, but I'm late for my relaxation
Speed is the supreme virtue in this time-obsessed new
century. Consider the most popular pro-ducts of our high-tech
society-overnight delivery, e-mail, ATM and FAX machines, express
check-out, cell phones, answering machines, speed dialing, palm pilots,
remote controls, microwave ovens, instant coffee, instant replay,
instant grits, instant credit, and instant gratification. We demand
quick response and quick service-fast food, fast computers, fast
Conversely, we cannot abide slowness; waiting is
intolerable. We rush to press the "Close Door" button on the elevator
for fear of a 10-second pause in our accelerated lives. Have you ever
found yourself punching "66" seconds for a minute on the microwave
because it's quicker than fol-lowing the "6" with a "0"?
impatience of basketball fans with slow play and low scoring led to the
implementation of the "shot clock." Workers demand more powerful
computers because they hate to wait a few extra seconds for the
microprocessor to do its duty.
Our hurriedness syndrome is
pervasive. Behind the wheel of our cars, we behave like revved-up NASCAR
racers. The concept of a "speed limit" has become an oxymoron. A yellow
light at an intersection has become a signal to speed up rather than
slow down. Highway congestion spurs road rage. Airline passengers seethe
at late flights and grouse at passengers who take their time leaving
the plane after landing.
Yet while we are preoccupied with saving
time, we seem to be fighting a losing battle. People constantly
complain about how busy they are and how little free time they have. The
frenetic pace of daily life keeps all of us in a constant state of
overdrive. Where does all the time go?
In a new book titled Faster:
The Acceleration of Everyday Life, James Gleick, the former science
editor for the New York Times, examines the "hurriedness" phenomenon and
offers insights into our obsession with time. He discovered, for
instance, that Americans on average sleep seven hours and 18 minutes a
day, about a 20 percent reduction from a century ago. Women spend four
hours of the average day on housework, and men less than two. We watch
television for three hours a day, almost twice the amount spent in 1965.
If we have a computer, we are on line an average of 90 minutes. We
spend one hour eating a day, 52 minutes on the phone, 41 minutes
reading, 29 minutes talking, 16 minutes searching for things we have
lost, and seven minutes caring for pets and plants. Finally, Americans
on average spend four minutes a day having sex, about the same amount of
time we spend complying with government regulations. Talk about
Gleick observes that white-collar
professionals seek to mimic the ability of computers to per-form
multiple functions simultaneously. Busyness for such "multi-taskers,"
has become a badge of honor, the latest form of social status. "The more
time you have on your hands," Gleick says, "the less important you must
Yet however much we complain about our overloaded
schedules, we are addicted to velocity and to hurry. "We're all
perpetrators and we're all victims," Gleick writes. "We can't stop
ourselves from going to the beach with a cell phone tucked in our
bathing suits." Humans, he adds, "have chosen speed and we thrive on
it-more than we generally admit. Our ability to work fast and play fast
gives us power. It thrills us. . . . We choose mania over boredom every
Gleick's assertions ring true. Yet those opting for the
fast lane may unwittingly be running in circles. As Joni Mitchell used
to sing, "We're captive on the carousel of time." We all need to insert
some speed humps in the roadway of our lives. And we need to ask
ourselves why we prefer frenzy to serenity, lickety split to leisure.
"Why should we," Henry David Thoreau asked in Walden, "live with such
hurry and waste of life?" Why indeed.
-- By David E. Shi
Shi is president of Furman University and author of The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture.