Is Time Speeding Up?

It feels as if there are fewer hours in any given day than there used to be.

Posted Aug 20, 2018

Noticed that time seems to be constantly speeding up? You’re not alone. Ever-evolving technology has a lot to do with the feeling that life is getting faster and faster, of course, as every few years a new device appears that allows us to do something quicker and more efficiently. More and more real-time services, live-streamed entertainment, and 24/7 access also provide the sense that there are fewer hours in any given day than there used to be even though no one has tinkered with our clocks or calendars. The faster adoption rate of new technologies is another major factor for the impression that time is accelerating.

It took decades for most people to own telephones and radios but hundreds of millions of users signed onto Facebook in just a few years, and there is no reason to think that this phenomenon will reverse in the future. “As fast as innovation has multiplied and spread in recent years,” McKinsey & Company advised, “it is poised to change and grow at an exponential speed beyond the power of human intuition to anticipate.” 

While technological innovation is its main engine, acceleration—an increase in speed and, specifically, in the rate of progress—can be easily detected in other areas of everyday life. Time is money, as Ben Franklin famously wrote, a proverb that appears to be truer than ever with regard to how we work. Politics has become a revolving door and popularity contest compared to the eras of the past, and many if not most cities in the world are in a constant state of renewal. Most tellingly, perhaps, the speed in which we acquire and dispose of things—the cycle of consumerism—has increased, a function of the Next Big Thing continually coming around the corner. 

People who specialize in such things argue that acceleration is more than just a nagging feeling that life is speeding by. The impressive sounding International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), an organization that studied global change, found in its research that the “human enterprise” did indeed experience “dramatic acceleration” along social, economic, and environmental lines over the past two centuries. Things really picked up in the 1950s, according to the IGBP, with some even making the case that Earth entered a new epoch that decade. Production and consumption, as well their environmental impact, rapidly escalated during what the organization called the “Great Acceleration,” a period of time in which we are still living.

For accelerationists, however, the already dizzying pace of the world is not enough. Once an outlying philosophy that sprang out of countercultural science fiction, accelerationism posits that both technology and global capitalism should be sped up as much as possible in order to advance mankind. A growing movement, accelerationism is consistent with a number of Future Trends (automation, transhumanism, deregulation, and anti-politics), and rests on the supposition that since change is inevitable it should be aggressively pursued. “Accelerationism, therefore, goes against conservatism, traditional socialism, social democracy, environmentalism, protectionism, populism, nationalism, localism and all the other ideologies that have sought to moderate or reverse the already hugely disruptive, seemingly runaway pace of change in the modern world,” as Andy Beckett described it for The Guardian. In some ways an extreme version of Ayn Rand’s objectivism, accelerationism presents technology-driven capitalism as the manifest destiny of the 21st century, and poses major implications for the future.

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