Faster: The Acceleration of Just about Everything

James Gleick, Author
James Gleick, Author Pantheon Books $24 (336p) ISBN 978-0-679-40837-6
Reviewed on: 08/02/1999
Release date: 08/01/1999
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-679-77548-5
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-375-40886-1
Compact Disc - 978-0-375-40887-8
Portable Document Format (PDF) - 978-0-446-92852-6
Open Ebook - 978-0-446-96081-6
Paperback - 326 pages - 978-0-349-11292-3
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-307-91509-2
Peanut Press/Palm Reader - 978-0-446-92257-9
Open Ebook - 978-0-446-93130-4
Ebook - 978-0-316-02370-2
Ebook - 978-0-7595-1744-8
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Technological advances in time measurement and time-saving devices have been fueled by the ever-quickening pace of our lives. Or is it the other way around? Gleick, twice nominated for the National Book Award (for Chaos: Making a New Science and Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman), offers a refreshingly contrarian view of the notion of time management and of the instantaneity (""instant coffee, instant intimacy, instant replay, and instant gratification"") of everyday life. Many of us exhibit what doctors and sociologists call ""hurry sickness""--arriving, for example, at an airport gate at the last possible minute--an obsession ironically matched by endless waits on expressways and runways. ""Gridlocked and Tarmacked are metonyms of our era,"" writes Gleick, ""...to be stuck in place, our fastest engines idling all around us, as time passes and blood pressures rise."" This paradox, and the ""simultaneous fragmentation and overloading of human attention"" that results, he contends, can be traced to a wide variety of everyday conveniences: microwaves and automatic dishwashers, express mail, beeper medicine, television remote control, even speed-dialing telephones (""Investing a half-hour in learning to program them is like advancing a hundred dollars to buy a year's supply of light bulbs at a penny discount""). Funny and irreverent, Gleick pinpoints the dilemma underlying many of today's technological improvements: that time-saving now comes more from ""the tautening net of efficiency"" than from raw speed, meaning that any snag in the system--whether a disabled airliner or one or two drivers unaccountably hitting the brake--can spread delay and confusion throughout the network. Paradoxically, too, the increasing pace and efficiency of our lives leads not to leisure and relaxation but to increased boredom: ""a backwash within another mental state, the one called mania."" This is a book to be studied... slowly. (Sept.)
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