The Acceleration Illusion: Why We Should Pull Ourselves Out of the Vortex
Time is created by change. Think about it: If you don’t have change, time slows to a crawl; if everything’s changing, time flies. It’s so predictable, it’s virtually an equation.
My life is filled with change, from constant flights across time zones, to my work helping a multinational transform its business, to waking up in a new place every few days. And I can confirm that it feels as if the very fabric of time — at least in my world — is accelerating.
But although a busy career certainly impacts on sense of time, I believe that the biggest culprit for the acceleration illusion is the smartphone.
Wherever I fly, I see people consumed by a sense of urgency. They glance nervously at their phones, checking on the latest whatever, with expectations of something new, different, changed from the last time they looked.
And if they don’t find “new,” they’ll search elsewhere until they do. And then share it, to become the purveyor of “new” to their peers. How often have you read a news article on your mobile and then shared it on social? As if your friends can’t read the news for themselves.
All over the world, people are getting a scrambled sense of time as a result. That thing you remember seeing recently, when did it really happen? Last week, last year, just now … do you have any idea? Whatever it was, your experience probably happened via a screen — on a wall, desk or your mobile screen. Not for real. If it had, you’d probably remember when it occurred.
For anyone accustomed to hyperconnectivity, the IRL (in real life) world can feel slow, uneventful, lacking in shareable content. Even a romantic date can feel like waiting for the next thing to happen — just notice the number of couples thumbing their screens rather than looking into each other’s eyes (“Suggestions for bars near the river, guys? #firstdate”).
I find that even television can seem slow these days. Reality TV was supposed to be a sped-up version of real life, and yet it often feels pedestrian. Rolling news comes direct from the scene, following dramatic events in real time, so why do I find myself eager for something to actually happen?
Like any big lifestyle change, taking control of your time is no easy feat. Quitting your cell phone is just not an option (I, for one, simply couldn’t do my job).
So, what can we do?
For me, I set aside time with my phone and laptop switched off. Once the logo disappears and the screen turns black, an involuntary sigh tells me how much it was needed. It doesn’t have to be long; 15 minutes is an eternity if you live a busy life. But to relax off-grid for that time means you’re in control, rather than your desire for hyperconnectivity.
And I don’t want to make this sound like a business boot camp, but some of my best ideas have come in these moments of downtime: freewheeling, floating downstream, carried by the breeze.
Don’t worry, after 15 minutes you can reconnect, log in, let your fingerprint unlock your cell phone — and, boom. Back in the game, but on your terms.