28 Feb 2017

Savouring the slow in an age of acceleration

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 3:08 pm on 28 February 2017


In a world of fast internet, fast traffic and fast food, American author Thomas Friedman has some tips about finding solace in slower moments.

A New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner, Friedman takes an optimistic view of our ability to fix big social, environmental and political problems in his book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.

He told RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan that we’re living in an age of impatience, with the three largest forces on the planet – market, nature and politics - all accelerating quickly.

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Photo: 123rf

He says a whirlwind of change is fundamentally reshaping the world, and while every generation feels like things are rapidly changing around them, things are different this time around.

“It happens everywhere and it happens really fast.”

He says when the railway or the telegraph were invented, they were first rolled out in the west and then introduced elsewhere over half a century.

“Now when the iPhone comes out, it comes out everywhere all at once, overnight. That’s what’s really different.”

The speed of change is also affecting ideas and he says some people are trying to put a stop to that.

“[There are] more people flowing around the world now, more contact with strangers.

“Maybe in middle America, now there’s a person at the cash register wearing a different kind of headdress, not a baseball cap as they might be used to, they may go into a men’s of ladies’ room and there’s a person of a different gender there.”

Friedman says what US President Donald Trump and others are selling in these times is a wall against the speed of change.

A particularly pivotal year for acceleration was 2007, he says, with the launch of the iPhone, Twitter, Facebook went global, Google released Android and Airbnb was started.

“2007 may be understood in time as the single most technological inflection point since Gutenberg, and we completely missed it because of 2008.”

He says right when the world’s physical technologies were taking off, our social structures, and politics in general, froze in 2008.

Thomas Friedman

Thomas Friedman Photo: supplied

Friedman remains optimistic about the future but says healthy communities will be vital in coping.

“If you look at America and you see the communities that are thriving, our country is not the ‘carnage is us’ image that Trump presented at his State of Union.”

He says if you want to be an optimist about America, ‘stand on your head’.

“Because the country looks so much better from the bottom up, than the top down.”

Friedman says the things that matter most today are all the things that can’t be downloaded, and are all things that have to be uploaded the old-fashioned way.

“Face-to-face, good neighbouring, good parenting, good spiritual leadership, that’s the stuff that really matters most because that’s what will anchor and sustain you when the world gets really fast.”

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