MODERN TIMES: Tales Of Accelerated Culture

Motion Blur from a Tokyo Monorail


BY CONOR J. HARRINGTON If you were to ask someone who was born in the sixties or seventies “what has changed most since you were younger?” a now standard response would be “the speed/pace of the day,” but what do they really mean? Have things slowed down, or sped up? People born during that period have grown up through the sci-fi esque technological revolution. They’ve gone from cell phones the size and weight of a brick and televisions with four channels to virtual reality and self driving cars right around the corner. All of our cell phones, tablets, computers, televisions, and apple watches keep us constantly tapped in, always easily reached and always seconds away from information or entertainment. I believe being constantly plugged in like this has rewired us. We’ve become pampered, no longer needing to grind out our pleasures in non-virtual activity, always able to pull out a phone, flip the channel, or turn on the xbox. What this comes down to is the convenience of speed. This quick, cheap way of experiencing happiness, getting the dopamine flowing, has made its mark on the ways we, as Americans, want our pleasures.

Some of the main forms of receiving pleasure/entertainment in American culture, such as food, sports, news, and television/film, have been altered by our new, ingrained impatience. Major League Baseball, the sport that used to be not only in name, but truly, “America’s Pastime,” has formed an entire committee that’s only goal is to “make the games shorter, and improve the overall pace of games.” Some of these changes are as minute as just telling the umpire you’d like to walk a batter instead of throwing four balls, while others are as drastic as changing the strike zone to make the game more hitter-friendly. The necessity of these changes are coming about from what seems to be a “decreased attention span” in the fans of the sport who are less and less entertained with games that often last over three hours.

Then there’s the streaming giant in the room, Netflix. No longer does anyone need to wait week in, week out for more episodes of their favorite television show, they now have entire series at their fingertips. Another way to recognize the success of the succinct is to look at Buzzfeed. The average Buzzfeed article is written at a 4th grade level and has an average length of 155 words. That means their articles are very easily understood and consumed within a few minutes. While Buzzfeed does often do very good longform journalism as well, 65% of their “viral” articles are a listicle. On the topic of journalism, look at how 24-hour news has affected how long a story lasts on a level of national consciousness. We are so constantly bombarded with big stories, political he said she said, mass shooting here, riot there, that they merely float in front of us on our screens and then fade away from our minds as the next day, and the new stories, roll around.

All of these examples of sped-up enjoyment aside, our technology has had immediate, quantifiable effects on us. In a study performed by Microsoft in 2015, they found that the average attention span has fallen from twelve seconds in 2000, when we all started staring at screens all the time, to eight seconds. While that doesn’t sound huge, it is a drop off of an entire third of our attention span. Another study, probably directly correlated to Microsoft’s, done in 2012 by Pearson found that more than four out of ten teachers claimed their children failed to read for pleasure by the age of eleven. On the flip side, the Microsoft study also found that our technology use has made us better multi-taskers, and increased the amount of information we can take in in small bursts, akin to the pace of modern advertising and branding which constantly surrounds us and bombards us.

Attention spans aside, I feel as if there is more to lose here. Has texting, usually concise and full of abbreviations and acronyms of actual words phrases, replaced the phone call, that thing we replaced actual face-to-face interaction with? Will we lose going out to the bars, or social gatherings, to try and find love and intimacy with dating websites and apps like tinder (slogan: “it’s like real life, but better), that match us upon base characteristics and traits? And lastly, why with all of these new technological advancements and conveniences, does it still feel as if there’s not enough time in the day? With the quickening pace of life, will we ever feel satisfied? Or will we only feel as if there was more we could have jammed in, more we could have accomplished? Has speeding up actually slowed anything down?

This piece isn’t about blaming anyone who enjoys any of the aforementioned pleasures, or doesn’t enjoy baseball, but instead about wanting to get people thinking about the fine line between pleasant convenience and sloth. To get people to think about the wonderful, fulfilling pleasures we may lose if we give in too easily to those that come quickest and easiest. All of the points I’ve made may be blown off as generalities, and I recognize the great danger that comes from going off of generality, but I see my points as more of an undeniable trend in changes made to fundamental parts of our life. These dangers are an affront on our patience and integrity as individuals, and put us at risk of losing the pleasures that require diligence, those of creation, experimentation, and unsure outcomes that stray from what is quick and easy.