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The Power of Now: Work and social consequences of our high-speed world

Time is compressed; everything is speeding up, we live in instant information. High-speed living enforces a live-for-the-present mentality that obscures history and memory. In the work place it result...


July 1, 2001
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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Time is compressed; everything is speeding up, we live in instant information. High-speed living enforces a live-for-the-present mentality that obscures history and memory. In the work place it results in short-term perspective, impulse decision-making, rat-race pressure. Time and speed are critical competitive issues, but they are also a growing stress factor for individuals; humans are biological and cannot function in nano-

second time. This human/machine time mismatch will lead to an over-reliance on machine-made decisions to the detriment of human reasoning. It will also result in a yearning for quiet time — a space where paper products play a role.

In 1970, Alvin Toffler described the symptoms of a new disease he called “future shock”. This is a psycho-biological condition induced by the “dizzying disorientation brought about by the premature arrival of the future,” subjecting individuals to “too much change in too short a time.” This condition results in a personal battle of “time wars” (Jeremy Rifkin) where the slower pace of our minds and bodies are in conflict with the faster tempo of our technology. Time wars show up in three contexts: the work world, the personal world, and society as a whole. This work world has been described as a rat race where only some rats thrive. For the individual, keeping up with e-mail, cellphone, PDAs and in the future, real-time conferencing, intelligent e-assistants, and just-in-time everything, ensures that we are in the midst of a connected and demanding business world of instant messaging and reaction. This situation has already been recognized as a growing and serious health concern, which is aggravated by the growing two-income family requirement. Cost estimates for this phenomenon have been pegged at US$30 to 40 billion per year in the US [International Labor Organization study, 2000]. This fast-paced existence “disengages us from the past like a receding landscape viewed from the rear of a roaring rocket.” As the world rushes past us, we are marooned and turn to the present for fulfillment. This is the Power of Now (Stephen Bertman, Hyperculture: The Human Cost of Speed), where a continually altered cosmos offers no fixed horizon. Our lives come to be characterized more by their random trajectory than by reasoned destination.

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For society and the personal world, the Power of Now immerses us in an atmosphere of transience and flux. It forces a live-for-the-moment mentality that obscures memory and history; the balance of the past, present and future is lost. For those who are able, there is a yearning for quiet time to pursue experiences and activities that require slowness, such as study, thinking, personal relationship-building. Children born into the Power of Now society absorb its tempo internally and “mature” too fast, lacking the judgment that only gradual maturation can provide. At the other end of the scale, seniors are looked upon as increasingly irrelevant, even by themselves. Lost is a sense of connection with the past and an increased frequency of family breakdown.

Signs of the times (Brand Futures Group): In Spain, Italy and Portugal, entrepreneurs are opening siesta shops where tired consumers can take a relaxing 30-minute nap for $10. There is a renaissance for Sundays in the US as the special day for rest and family. You can’t mow your lawn or go shopping in Germany on a Sunday.

According to Bertman, there are three ways to resist the Power of Now by redesigning our lives:

RESTRAIN OUR TECHNOLOGY: Make choices

Call a regular time-out during the day

Take a weekly sabbatical

Put energy into emotional aspirations rather than possessions

RETAIN OUR HISTORY: Wisdom and experience

Keep family experiences alive

Celebrate ethnic traditions

Back to basics education that includes history and literature

REGAIN OUR SENSES: Slow is OK

Take walks and observe our surroundings

Get away from the city

Unplug the TV and computer

Why is this important?

The Power of Now must be recognized for its workplace and home-space implications. Time wars stress and the consequent performance impairment can be mitigated by attention to such workplace policies as exercise facilities, time-to-think sessions, conversation pits, creativity workshops, time-management protocols, message prioritization, redesigned skills-specialization, self-directed empowered project teams, team functioning. Management’s recognition of an employee’s need to balance work with personal life is one of the top five drivers of employee commitment to an organization (AON Consulting). The 24/7 world should not be celebrated as a badge of performance. For the home environment, time with family and time to pursue intellectual or leisure activities are important both for the individual and for performance in the workplace. Paper products have a traditional role in these “quiet time” activities — and they should be branded accordingly. Few people wish to come home and stare at a monitor, when they may be doing this all day.

Alan R. Procter can be reached at futureviews@alanprocter.com. For more information, visit www.futureviews.net