Book review: Tyranny of the moment

Subtitled “Fast and slow time in the information age”, this book by norwegian Thomas Hylland Eriksen details the struggle between two kinds of experiences. Fast time is when you’re doing 10 things at the same time. You’re talking on the phone while reading email, listening to the radio and half-following another conversation in the room. Slow time is when you focus on one thing only. You take time to cook a nice meal, to play with your child or to do nothing.

Eriksen argues that the information age is geared almost exclusively towards fast time and that consequently we have to make slow time for ourselves. Eriksen also argues that in any contest between fast time and slow time, fast time will win, because it is immediately gratifying and (not least) addictive.

The book contains a fine overview of the changes we’re seeing as society moves further into the information age. There are many fine examples and parallels and a some nice introduction to the main technologies that are driving these changes, such as writing, clocks, money and even sheet music.

To me, the issue of fast vs. slow time comes down to awareness. Fast time “pulls you out of yourself”. You’re attention is spread among so many things that you’re not focused on what goes on inside yourself. This is not necessarily good or bad, it’s just a nice thing to be aware of.

Slow time on the other hand, is taken up with experiences of a nature that allow you to still “feel yourself”. Taking a walk in nature, meditating, playing. Many people, when faced with stretches of slow time, run away screaming :o) Or at least fill that time up with countless distractions (chief among these is TV, of course).

You see: Slow time can be frightening. Suddenly all kinds of thoughts and questions may pop into your head – many of which have no easy resolutions and answers. Once you sit down to do one thing (or nothing), you may suddenly notice an enormous restlessness that can be quite frustrating. Of course, I once heard a clever guy saying that that restlessness was there all along. It’s just that it’s only when you stop doing 10 things at once that you notice it :o)

I can only speak for myself and say that I need both fast and slow time in my life. Fast time is fun, exhilarating, energizing and challenging. And then slow time gives me peace, rest and perspective. And many of my best ideas seem to grow out of slow time. So we need both, and increasingly, we need the ability to shift between them.

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