Ofer Zur, a psychologist and author who heads the Zur Institute in Sonoma, discusses the human impacts of today?s fast-paced life. His articles on speed, technology and related topics are available at www.drzur.com.
PRESS DEMOCRAT: People often say, "Time is money." Do you agree?
ZUR: The truth is that time is very different from money. Unlike money, time cannot be banked, saved, recycled, invested, or put in an IRA for old age. And contrary to the commonly held belief, time is one of the items that money cannot buy. In reality, more money generally corresponds to less time. This is evidenced by observing the "rich and famous" or those of us living in the most "civilized" nations. In addition to money, lack of available time has actually become a measure of one's status. "Successful" people seem to have a lot of money but very little spare time. Similarly, affluent families are known not for their leisure but for their stress.
PRESS DEMOCRAT: You write about the ever-increasing pace of our lives. What's driving it?
ZUR: Speed provides people with a pleasurable high. This high can be experienced in a great variety of ways, from riding a roller coaster or a fast bike, to speeding in a car, to consuming coffee or other stimulants. Starbucks' meteoric success and the billions of dollars spent annually on caffeinated drinks and stimulants are similar to recent exciting communication technologies and the Internet, which have provided people with instant fast communication via cell phones or computers. This all illustrates what has become an addictive aspect of speed in our culture. Technological inventions are definitely an important force driving the pace of life.
PRESS DEMOCRAT: How is technological change affecting our lives?
ZUR: Today we live in a hurried society in which people feel rushed, overscheduled, stressed and unable to keep up. We fill our lives with computers, cell phones, wireless laptops, Palm Pilots and other time-saving gadgets, only to find ourselves deprived of time. We read books and take seminars on time management, hire consultants to help us manage our businesses and personal lives more efficiently, only to find ourselves frantic, impatient, short-tempered and frustrated. We are lucky if our managed care doctors spend more than a few rushed minutes with us, or get more than a few preauthorized short sessions from our managed care therapists. At the turn of the new millennium, it seems like we are accustomed to one pace - full speed ahead. Our cars, computers, Internet connections, TV sound bites, all reflect the high speed we desire at all times and under all circumstances. We also have books and seminars on how to compost faster, create a 36-hour day and make love in a more time-efficient manner. There are even texts on how to relax and meditate more quickly, which is truly a paradox of modern life worth contemplating! As the speed and stakes get higher our patience and tolerance go down.
We can get faster to our destination but we lose the joy of the journey itself. And while we can communicate fast via e-mail or text messaging, we lose part of the experience of contemplation and wonder. Similarly, we can access unprecedented amounts of information instantly but often lose our capacity to filter it well and make informed choices. Technological innovation and the ever-increasing speed of life are also tied to rather dangerous illusions that our resources are limitless and our capacity for growth and speed are unlimited.
PRESS DEMOCRAT: Does this trend affect children?
ZUR: Our hurried culture produces hurried children. We introduce them to technologies such as video games and text messaging that teach them instant gratification. We cram our children's lives full of music lessons, soccer practices, tutoring and other activities meant to enhance their education and enrich their development, and end up raising a new generation of hurried children. We teach them math and reading in early grades and insist that they play sports year round, but neglect to teach them art, meditation, patience, compassion or empathy. We focus on their IQ and SAT scores but neglect to help them develop their emotional intelligence. We often confuse high achievement with healthy, well-adjusted or happy children. As a result of this push to excel quickly, many of our children feel lost and alienated from their parents. This feeling of not measuring up and being rushed through their childhoods often leads to children turning to drugs, violence and other expressions of depression and anxiety. We need to rethink the effect of pressure to speed up academically and other ways in an effort to help our children grow up more relaxed and fully developed.
PRESS DEMOCRAT: What can adults do to avoid the problems of a fast-paced existence?
ZUR: As technology advances and the pace of life speeds up, the modern world has become famished for time. Living a healthy life entails a constant shifting of gears. There are times to enjoy fast cars, high-speed Internet connection and fast exchanges of text messaging. There are also times to enjoy and be present for our food, our family and friends, a beautiful post-harvest vineyard or sunset. There are times to hold our breath in awe when our child is born or when we make a new and satisfying connection. The key here is to avoid being stuck in fast gear, learning instead to shift gears and enjoy different types of time and different paces of life. This will free us from being slaves to technology, giving us instead the joy of speed and the benefits of technology as we continue to develop as a civilization.