Speed Limits by Mark C. Taylor helps make sense of a world in which everything from fashion to finance has undergone rapid change. Taylor argues that the ‘need for speed’ mantra of modern society creates a paradox: the technology we dreamed might free us, by saving time and money, in fact traps us, in a race we can never win. Looking at the potentially detrimental effects of our addiction to speed, the author looks at the philosophy behind why ‘fast is never fast enough’.
‘The faster we go, the less time we have, and the more we try to catch up, the farther behind we fall’
Connecting our speed-obsession with today’s global capitalism, Speed Limits composes a grand narrative showing how commitments to economic growth and extreme competition, combined with accelerating technological innovation, have brought us close to disaster. Psychologically, environmentally, economically and culturally, speed is taking a profound toll on our lives. By showing how the phenomenon of speed has emerged, Taylor offers us a chance to see our pace of life as the product of specific ideas, practices and policies. Yet it is not inevitable or irreversible, and this book courageously invites us to imagine how we might patiently work towards a more deliberative life, and sustainable world.
An Interview with Mark C. Taylor
Q: Many people seem to be aware that the pace of life has become unsustainable but still can’t slow down. Why is this happening?
A: The rate of technological change has created an economic system that thrives on speed. From fast fashion to high speed/high volume financial markets operating in nanoseconds, acceleration is the engine of growth. The faster everyone goes, the less time they have, and the more they struggle to keep up, the further behind they fall.
Q: What are the effects of this addiction to speed?
A: Psychologically, parents who pop pills to keep up during the day and to sleep at night give their kids speed to get ahead in school. Economically, the big winners no longer make money by selling their labour or material goods but by trading virtual assets and immaterial financial instruments that compound vastly faster than labour or stuff. This speed gap creates a wealth gap that will never be corrected by adding more jobs. Environmentally, disastrous climate change is spurred by economic growth.
Q: What can be done to avoid such dire consequences?
A: Human survival now depends on cultivating virtues that have become unfashionable – patience, attention, cooperation, deliberation and reflection. Ironically, the urgent question is whether people can change fast enough to avoid the looming catastrophe that the continuing addiction to speed inevitably will bring.
Speed Limits is available to buy here.
Mark C. Taylor is professor and chair, Department of Religion, Columbia University. A leading philosopher and cultural critic, he is the author of thirty books and a regular contributor to the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg News and other publications.