The Quickening Pace

The pace of life is speeding up. Hardly the most startling statement. As most of us are only too aware, change comes more and more rapidly. Technological breakthroughs spread through society in years rather than centuries. Calculations that would have taken decades are now made in minutes. Communication that once required months occurs in seconds. Development in every area is happening faster and faster.

As a result, more of us are living in the fast lane - many in overdrive. We are faced with more information to absorb, more challenges to meet, more skills to learn, and more tasks to accomplish. Yet the time to fit it all in seems to be getting less and less.

Worse still, there is no sign that things are slowing down. On the contrary, the pace of life is set to get faster and faster, taking us ever deeper into what Alvin Toffler called “Future Shock ... the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.”

Will we be able to cope? This, argued Toffler, is the challenge facing us: to learn to handle ever more rapid change without burning out or breaking down.

Not only is accelerating change putting us under stress; it is also putting increasing pressure on the planet. There are ever-growing numbers of us to feed, clothe, and house. Our waste is pouring into the air, the soil, and the seas many times faster than our environment can absorb it. Holes are appearing in the ozone layer, while forests are disappearing at alarming rates - as are the species that live in them. Seldom in its history has the earth changed so rapidly.

The faster the world around us changes, the more we are forced to let go of any cosy notions we might have about the future. No one today can predict with any degree of certainty how things will be in a year, or even in six months. When global stock markets can crash without warning, political walls crumble overnight, countries invade each other in a day, and ecological disasters shatter our illusions of control, we are increasingly forced to live in the present.

To live with continued acceleration and all the changes it brings will take more than simply learning to manage better. It will force a complete revision of our thinking about who we are, what we really want, and what life is all about.

From 'Waking Up in Time: Finding Inner Peace In Times of Accelerating Change', Origin Press, 2008

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