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← The unforeseen consequences of a fast-paced world

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Showing Revision 5 created 12/03/2019 by Oliver Friedman.

  1. Do you ever wonder why we're surrounded
    with things that help us do everything
  2. faster and faster and faster?
  3. Communicate faster,
  4. but also work faster, bank faster,
  5. travel faster, find a date faster,
  6. cook faster, clean faster
    and do all of it all at the same time?
  7. How do you feel about cramming
    even more into every waking hour?
  8. Well, to my generation of Americans,

  9. speed feels like a birthright.
  10. Sometimes I think
    our minimum speed is Mach 3.
  11. Anything less, and we fear
    losing our competitive edge.
  12. But even my generation
    is starting to question
  13. whether we're the masters of speed
  14. or if speed is mastering us.
  15. I'm an anthropologist
    at the Rand Corporation,

  16. and while many anthropologists
    study ancient cultures,
  17. I focus on modern day cultures
    and how we're adapting
  18. to all of this change
    happening in the world.
  19. Recently, I teamed up with an engineer,
    Seifu Chonde, to study speed.
  20. We were interested both in how people
    are adapting to this age of acceleration
  21. and its security and policy implications.
  22. What could our world look like in 25 years
  23. if the current pace of change
    keeps accelerating?
  24. What would it mean for transportation,
  25. or learning, communication,
  26. manufacturing, weaponry
  27. or even natural selection?
  28. Will a faster future make us
    more secure and productive?
  29. Or will it make us more vulnerable?
  30. In our research, people accepted
    acceleration as inevitable,

  31. both the thrills and the lack of control.
  32. They fear that if they were to slow down,
  33. they might run the risk
    of becoming obsolete.
  34. They say they'd rather
    burn out than rust out.
  35. Yet at the same time,
  36. they worry that speed could
    erode their cultural traditions
  37. and their sense of home.
  38. But even people who are winning
    at the speed game
  39. admit to feeling a little uneasy.
  40. They see acceleration as widening
    the gap between the haves,
  41. the jet-setters who are buzzing around,
  42. and the have-nots,
  43. who are left in the digital dust.
  44. Yes, we have good reason to forecast
    that the future will be faster,

  45. but what I've come to realize
  46. is that speed is paradoxical,
  47. and like all good paradoxes,
  48. it teaches us about the human experience,
  49. as absurd and complex as it is.
  50. The first paradox is that we love speed,

  51. and we're thrilled by its intensity.
  52. But our prehistoric brains
    aren't really built for it,
  53. so we invent roller coasters
    and race cars and supersonic planes,
  54. but we get whiplash, carsick,
  55. jet-lagged.
  56. We didn't evolve to multitask.
  57. Rather, we evolved to do one thing
    with incredible focus,
  58. like hunt -- not necessarily
    with great speed
  59. but with endurance for great distance.
  60. But now there's a widening gap
    between our biology and our lifestyles,
  61. a mismatch between what our bodies are
    built for and what we're making them do.
  62. It's a phenomenon my mentors have called
    "Stone Agers in the fast lane."
  63. (Laughter)

  64. A second paradox of speed is that
    it can be measured objectively. Right?

  65. Miles per hour, gigabytes per second.
  66. But how speed feels,
  67. and whether we like it,
  68. is highly subjective.
  69. So we can document
  70. that the pace at which we are adopting
    new technologies is increasing.
  71. For example, it took 85 years
    from the introduction of the telephone
  72. to when the majority of Americans
    had phones at home.
  73. In contrast, it only took 13 years
    for most of us to have smartphones.
  74. And how people act and react to speed
  75. varies by culture and among
    different people within the same culture.
  76. Interactions that could be seen
    as pleasantly brisk and convenient
  77. in some cultures
  78. could be seen as horribly rude in others.
  79. I mean, you wouldn't go asking
    for a to-go cup at a Japanese tea ceremony
  80. so you could jet off
    to your next tourist stop.
  81. Would you?
  82. A third paradox
    is that speed begets speed.

  83. The faster I respond,
    the more responses I get,
  84. the faster I have to respond again.
  85. Having more communication
  86. and information at our fingertips
  87. at any given moment
  88. was supposed to make decision-making
    easier and more rational.
  89. But that doesn't really
    seem to be happening.
  90. Here's just one more paradox:

  91. If all of these faster technologies
    were supposed to free us from drudgery,
  92. why do we all feel so pressed for time?
  93. Why are we crashing our cars
    in record numbers,
  94. because we think we have
    to answer that text right away?
  95. Shouldn't life in the fast lane
    feel a little more fun
  96. and a little less anxious?
  97. German speakers even have a word for this:
  98. "Eilkrankheit."
  99. In English, that's "hurry sickness."
  100. When we have to make fast decisions,
  101. autopilot brain kicks in,
  102. and we rely on our learned behaviors,
  103. our reflexes, our cognitive biases,
  104. to help us perceive and respond quickly.
  105. Sometimes that saves our lives, right?
  106. Fight or flight.
  107. But sometimes, it leads us astray
    in the long run.
  108. Oftentimes, when our society
    has major failures,

  109. they're not technological failures.
  110. They're failures that happen
    when we made decisions too quickly
  111. on autopilot.
  112. We didn't do the creative
    or critical thinking required
  113. to connect the dots
  114. or weed out false information
  115. or make sense of complexity.
  116. That kind of thinking can't be done fast.
  117. That's slow thinking.
  118. Two psychologists,
    Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky,
  119. started pointing this out back in 1974,
  120. and we're still struggling
    to do something with their insights.
  121. All of modern history can be thought of as
    one spurt of acceleration after another.

  122. It's as if we think
    if we just speed up enough,
  123. we can outrun our problems.
  124. But we never do.
  125. We know this in our own lives,
  126. and policymakers know it, too.
  127. So now we're turning
    to artificial intelligence
  128. to help us make faster
    and smarter decisions
  129. to process this ever-expanding
    universe of data.
  130. But machines crunching data
    are no substitute
  131. for critical and sustained thinking
  132. by humans,
  133. whose Stone Age brains need a little time
    to let their impulses subside,
  134. to slow the mind
  135. and let the thoughts flow.
  136. If you're starting to think
    that we should just hit the brakes,

  137. that won't always be the right solution.
  138. We all know that a train that's going
    too fast around a bend can derail,
  139. but Seifu, the engineer,
  140. taught me that a train that's going
    too slowly around a bend can also derail.
  141. So managing this spurt of acceleration
    starts with the understanding

  142. that we have more control over speed
    than we think we do,
  143. individually and as a society.
  144. Sometimes, we'll need to engineer
    ourselves to go faster.
  145. We'll want to solve gridlock,
  146. speed up disaster relief
    for hurricane victims
  147. or use 3-D printing to produce
    what we need on the spot,
  148. just when we need it.
  149. Sometimes, though, we'll want
    to make our surroundings feel slower
  150. to engineer the crash
    out of the speedy experience.
  151. And it's OK not to be
    stimulated all the time.
  152. It's good for adults
  153. and for kids.
  154. Maybe it's boring,
    but it gives us time to reflect.
  155. Slow time is not wasted time.
  156. And we need to reconsider
    what it means to save time.

  157. Culture and rituals around the world
    build in slowness,
  158. because slowness helps us reinforce
    our shared values and connect.
  159. And connection is
    a critical part of being human.
  160. We need to master speed,
  161. and that means thinking carefully about
    the trade-offs of any given technology.
  162. Will it help you reclaim time that you
    can use to express your humanity?
  163. Will it give you hurry sickness?
    Will it give other people hurry sickness?
  164. If you're lucky enough to decide the pace
    that you want to travel through life,
  165. it's a privilege.
  166. Use it.
  167. You might decide that you need
    both to speed up
  168. and to create slow time:
  169. time to reflect,
  170. to percolate
  171. at your own pace;
  172. time to listen,
  173. to empathize,
  174. to rest your mind,
  175. to linger at the dinner table.
  176. So as we zoom into the future,

  177. let's consider setting
    the technologies of speed,
  178. the purpose of speed
  179. and our expectations of speed
  180. to a more human pace.
  181. Thank you.

  182. (Applause)