Doing things differently since 1984
You don’t have to go far to find someone who feels rushed these days. Compared to our ancestors, we spend far less time preparing food, travelling, cleaning, building and repairing our homes, getting clothing, and all the other basic necessities of life. But even as we speed up these processes, it seems like we’re speeding up everything.
When learning World History in high school, I couldn’t help but notice an interesting trend in the lifespan of some of Western Civilization’s greatest empires. I say “Western” because I’m not accounting for, say, China, which has pretty much lasted forever. Observe (dates mostly taken from Wikipedia, and are definitely debatable):
Ancient Egypt: 3150 – 30 BC (approx. 3000 years)
Roman Empire (including Eastern): 27 BC – 1453 AD (approx. 1400 years)
Ottoman Empire: 1299 – 1922 AD (approx. 600 years)
British Empire: 1707 – 1997 AD (approx. 300 years)
US: 1945 – present? (approx. 70 years so far, already waning)
For my history buffs out there, please notice that I did say these dates are debatable. And, naturally, I have not listed every empire or world power. But I think that the general trend says something. Just imagine – it would be unthinkable now for an empire to last 3000 years. Multinational corporations, the empires of today, last an average of 40 years. You can see a visual illustration of shortening empires here:
The rise and fall of world empires is not the only thing that is getting faster. In fact, it would be more difficult to find something that is not getting faster. Compare the time spent sending a letter overseas in 1850 to sending an email now… or even the speed of sending an email now with sending one 20 years ago. In fact, it appears the entire universe is accelerating in its expansion.
From technology to social change, it’s easy to find examples of everything around us noticeably quickening its pace. After all, don’t we kind of want it that way? It seems like if it’s not instant, we want it to be. Who wants to wait around? We all want to get rich quick and feel better fast; we look for instant gratification for our immediate needs. For sure, we humans are the main cause of everything speeding up (except for that expanding universe thing), whether we really mean to or not.
So, if time is indeed speeding up, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, let’s start with this: it’s an unavoidable thing. As population grows, the distance between each of us shrinks, both literally and figuratively. Ideas are simultaneously generated (more people = more brains!) and shared at an increasing rate. Collective ideas create demand, collective demand creates action, and collective action creates change. When change happens more often, it creates the effect of time speeding up.
Go ahead, you can read back over those last few of sentences. I’ll wait. It does actually make sense.
This takes us back to the original question: is time speeding up a good thing or a bad thing? That’s a question for you, and some excellent Science Fiction (or maybe just Science!) writers to ponder 🙂