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A perspective on Technology and Time

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    At the Forum in London held this week, on the topic “Time, Technology & Perspective”, it was fascinating to hear the almost idyllic style of Ray Bradbury’s story, “The Flying Machine” described as “chilling” and its effect on that reader compared by him to Bradbury’s horror stories.

    Many of us who took part in the discussion were from businesses entirely based on promoting new technologies, and of course everyone is more and more dependent on newer and newer technologies even for basics such as obtaining money or getting hold of food.

    Technology is often described as neutral, when it is in reality a radical magnifier and radical reducer.

    For example, it magnifies my ability to keep in touch with people around the world by reducing the barriers of time and distance. Therefore it magnifies the number of people with whom I can keep in touch – but, by that very fact, reduces my ability to have deep relationships.

    The result is that I need much more wisdom regarding who to keep in touch with, because “the currency of relationships is time” (as Michael Schluter puts it). Every moment that I spend focusing on X means that I cannot spend that moment focusing on Y.

    Even with all the wisdom in the world, does that not tend to increase the psychological pressure on me as a person?

    For anyone who must earn a living, time-considerations also get complicated by money-considerations. Particularly as we live in a capitalist economy where the “winner takes all”. Consider the increasing income gap between the CEOs of the largest companies and their own lowest-paid employees (or even median-paid employees). Or, if you don’t like that kind of comparison, consider the pay-gap between CEOs of the largest companies and CEOs of the smallest companies (or even median-sized companies). Or the gap between the 8 richest people in the world and the 8 poorest people in the world: according to Oxfam last month, the 8 richest own as much of the world’s resources the poorest half of the world’s population.

    Clearly, if I can get to the top of the biggest ladder that’s within my reach, I can win as much as possible… in terms of material wealth. But what – and who! – am I losing in that race to the top?

    As technology multiplies the number of ladders available, and moves them around as well increases the height of some while decreasing the height of others – ever faster! – does the speed of technological progress increase also the scale and quality of spiritual and psychological resources required to live a happy life?

    And does technology erode a key resouce, which Richard Swenson calls “margin”?

    We discussed a 2-page extract from his book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.

    Sharing our learnings at the end of the Forum, one participant said, quite simply, “I’m going to slow down”.

    However, in our frenetic world, is that easier said than done?

    Particularly in view of the fact that slowing down involves a cost?

    Do we need resources from beyond ourselves to be willing and able to forego the apparent benefits of moving ever faster?

    Or could it be that some areas of my life need slowing down while others need speeding up?

    Perhaps it is more constructive to view it all as a matter of paying the right attention to 4 key quadrants:

    – what relates to my body,

    – what relates to wisdom,

    – what relates to the divine/ supernatural, and

    – what relates with others?

    I guess, so that my relationships (and I myself) do not end up simply being crushed, the ultimate question might be:

    What do I need to change in order to gain the margin, and therefore the perspective and the capacity, to be able to see and manage the now-intermeshed dimensions of technology and time, ambition and cost versus reward, simply more material wealth versus contentment, happiness and joy?



    A worthwhile discussion, it seems! Shame I couldn’t attend.

    Regarding the question of ‘slowing down’ I find it easy to consider that I will ‘make time to slow down’, but the pervasiveness of technology is such that I am rarely disconnected from this Logic of Technology – even when I turn off my phone so it doesn’t beep with a new e-mail, I find myself wondering whether, for example, the hour that I set aside to ‘slow down’ is nearly over yet!

    I guess you talked about different times and different seasons – slowing down during a meeting is counterproductive and disrespectful of others (and their time!), and I want to work hard when I have a task to do, rather than slow down. But during the ‘margin’ times, or some kind of sabbath-rest, I want to be slow, disconnected, freed up.

    But perhaps, rather than allowing the Logic of Technology to be ubiquitous or the default, can I turn it the other way round? I.e. rather than set aside time and space to ‘slow down’ or build in margins, can I set aside ‘work hours’ where I work hard, count the minutes, and make full use of the potential of some of the wonderful technology we have? But the rest of the time, be governed not by technology but by the Mentality of Margins?

    Just wondering out loud

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