Dispatches from the Road 3: Speed as an end in itself

I remember reading Jean Baudrillard’s America back in college, many years ago. It was one of my favorite books, although I didn’t fully understand the French post-structural language. Nonetheless, I got the vague gist of it. Baudrillard opens up with a chapter about speed, and forgive me if I am doing this by memory because it’s very poetic. He talks about speed being America; speed being not just a means to an end but an end in itself. Speed is the thing that defines us – faster and faster, more and more – turning and turning like the falcon cannot hear the falconer, mere anarchy lost upon the world. Yes, speed is part of America. That’s why the roads are so big; it’s why the spaces are so vast. It’s why we have a certain optimism that things will be better tomorrow. That’s why we have a certain arrogance that the things we create today will solve the problems of tomorrow. That’s why we have a certain loneliness that everyone is always going somewhere, and no one can stop and smell the roses.

Ideology is very important, and the ideology of speed is something that defines us. I have seen the ideology of speed in my lifetime – faster and faster. My parents got married in 1984, and they had me in 1990. Some of my earliest memories, or rather formative memories, happened around the time when I was 13 and 14, 20 years after their marriage. It was when the toasters, washing machines, and refrigerators they received as gifts for their wedding started to break. These were good solid toasters from the late 70s and early 80s. Then they broke, and we ordered new ones on Amazon. These ones were from foreign productions, and then from then on out, every two years, maybe even less, we had to order a new toaster, a new appliance because everything kept breaking. Shipping was so cheap and quick from all over the world. It was united in one single supply chain so that we Americans could make the trade-off, and this made us happy. We could have large-screen TVs, furniture, and all sorts of appliances readily available, and nothing lasted. Everything was quick, and everything broke. My generation moved around a lot, so as we’ve come into our own purchasing power-wise, we don’t even think it’s strange to buy new small appliances every year because that’s how often we move anyway.

It all felt very natural, and that became an ideology, and the speed inconvenience that started in the 50s and 60s has reached its culmination. We can just hit a button and have something arrive on our doorstep the next day, and we don’t even question this. We don’t need to think about the incalculable chain of human suffering that begins with the hit of a button and ends with a package arriving on our front door because it all happens anonymously. It all happens quickly and all happens behind closed doors. So how are we ever going to slow down? How are we ever going to get back to the things that are essential? How are we ever going to build deep connections again when everything is about more and more, faster and faster just like Dr. Seuss predicted in his wonderful Lorax.

So I don’t know what the solution is for slowing down, and I don’t know the solution for when to make speed stop being an end in itself and start making other values more sacred to us. I don’t know if it’s too far gone, and if it’s even possible, but I do know that in my own life, whenever I feel down and depressed, I go back to the things I like in childhood types of music. I like the hobbies I had playing piano, which I still do to this day.

It’s easy to get caught up in the ideology of speed, especially in today’s fast-paced world. But sometimes it’s important to take a step back and reevaluate what truly matters in life. Building deep connections with others, spending time in nature, and pursuing hobbies that bring us joy and fulfillment are all important ways to slow down and reconnect with what’s truly important.

Of course, slowing down is easier said than done. It’s not always easy to break free from the cycle of constant consumption and instant gratification that defines our modern society. In the end, perhaps the most important thing is to simply be more mindful of the role that speed plays in our lives. By being aware of the ways in which we are impacted by the ideology of speed, we can begin to make more intentional choices about how we spend our time and what we prioritize.

I would imagine that it works for us to decide society as well as things go faster and faster, and we get more and more disconnected from the route of what is important, perhaps returning to those routes is the most important thing growing things becomes the most important thing, watching the miracle of life transpire over the course of a single growing season, becomes the only thing it connection with the earth and with the heavens and maybe then speed itself will slow down