In Time: how our lives have sped up?

Translated by Marine El Hajji

“I don’t have time!” This sentence has been uttered more than a billion times already, between the time that we spend at work, shopping, on public transport, at home…, we are always running out of time. Or is it just how it feels to us? Our increasingly accelerated lifestyles make us feel like there is never enough time. Could it be that we are living in Andrew Niccol’s film In Time? We may very well be, all things considered.

From food to entertainment to news, we constantly count our time, even unconsciously sometimes. The growing success of fast food restaurants reflects a society that no longer takes the time to eat, nor pay attention to what it eats. The first episode of the Netflix’s docuseries History 101 explains how fast food arrived at the perfect time in Western countries. Do we forget to take the time to eat? Probably. In Costa Rica, an expat community created an ecovillage in order to question our western way of life, relearn how to savour what we eat, and sustain themselves on food that they grow, not food that is imported.

Is the popularity of series just another consequence of this speeding up of our lives? Probably. The short-video format makes perfect sense in a world where every second counts. Since they are longer, movies require more time, which we don’t necessarily have.

The speed of our lifestyles is problematic for our consciousness, and act as a drug for our unconsciousness. Our consciousness is drowning in information to be processed, which makes learning a difficult process. Our unconsciousness is stimulated by all this data, a flow of constant information that gives us pleasure, just like a drug. The rise of new technologies has boosted the immediacy of communication and information. In fact, we tend to be more captivated by headlines or short amounts of information, ignoring long explanatory texts. By the way, don’t worry, you’re almost done with this article!

Would you believe me if I told you that our attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish? Eight seconds; that is the average attention span of the population. That may be partly explained by the digital revolution.

When did our lives start to sped up?

According to Christophe Charles, a French historian and contemporary history teacher, this acceleration began “during the first half of the 19th century, with the increasing speed of travel and information, made possible by railways, then steamboats, the visual and then electric telegraph, and finally interoceanic cables”. Since then, our modes of transportation and communication have only been getting faster and faster. The media is one of the biggest beneficiaries of instantaneous information. Fake news, on the other hand, is spreading faster than ever…

What is the impact of this speed?

Émile Durkheim speaks of “anomie”, which is the loss of bearings and the weakening of the old standards of our society. According to Christophe Charles, we observe nervousness caused by the instability of our lives. Most of us have already experienced stress due to being late, or have feared not going fast enough. This feeling that time is always running out can be quite burdensome, if not utterly exhausting. This could explain why yoga and meditation are such a hit nowadays, as they offer us a break from our hectic world.

1Arnaud Chomette, Actu 2020 : comprendre le monde du XXIe siècle, Ellipses, 2020, p. 50.


Photo de couverture : photo personnelle de Margaux Courbon prise au Musée d’Orsay à Paris

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