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ROBERT KROLWICH: So, speed is better. Somehow.

 

MICHAEL MALONE: Speed is somehow physically rewarding. It’s emotionally rewarding. That’s why the moment you get into a car, and you know it’s faster than the one you have, you try to see how fast that car goes. That’s why you go on roller coasters. That’s why you kids play video games. Because there’s something about that rush that’s absolutely thralling. Now, is it good for you? Probably not. Is it beneficial to your life? Probably not. But, somehow we’re built for that.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Maybe. But, here is a little problem. Whenever I get a tool that makes me go faster, the next thing is I want the whole world to catch up with me. I want to make everybody go faster, and I’m not alone… This here’s a perfectly ordinary phone. I have this phone here. You’ll hear a ring. Look, I’m simulating the actual ring. You can go, “Doot-doot-doot-doot-doot-doot-doot”… With my home-built ringing phone, I asked people, “Okay, you tell me, when you make a call, how many rings before you get irritated, and how many before you just hang up?” Frankly, I figured it would be something like four gets you ticked and six rings is when you hang up, but people got irritated very early.

 

FIRST MAN: Now.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Already?

 

SECOND MAN: Come on. Answer the phone.

 

WOMAN: Usually, I’m already, like, on the e-mail.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: On the second ring?

 

FIRST MAN: Yes.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: At two?

 

SECOND MAN: Yeah.

 

SECOND WOMAN: Yeah. I’m sick of this. I don’t want to wait anymore.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: At two, you’re sick?

 

SECOND WOMAN: Time is valuable, man.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: And, unbelievably, a large number of these people hung up after three rings. Three.

 

THIRD MAN: Three’s a magic number, you know…

 

THIRD WOMAN: But, the third one is, like…

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Three rings and you’re out? But why? Well, some of them said that people should have their phones with them, at all times. We do.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Well, are the three of you just peculiar where you live, or is this normal?

 

MAN: I don’t know anybody else who would install another phone line in the bathroom, but…

 

THIRD WOMAN: My mom’s got one.

 

MAN: Oh. Now I do.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: You’re kidding me! … Wait a minute, don’t they know anybody, like in their families, somewhere, who takes time to answer the phone? … Do you have any relatives in, oh, Louisiana, or…?

 

THIRD WOMAN: I’ve got…

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: All right.

 

THIRD WOMAN: Louisiana.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: So now.

 

THIRD WOMAN: A lot slower.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: A lot slower.

 

THIRD WOMAN: They’ve only got one phone in the whole house. I hate visiting.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Is it one of those rotary phones, or something? All right, we’re done with you guys. “All right, you’ve proved your point,” says Michael Malone, “but so what? Everyone knows speed is contagious. What’s fascinating is, if you see something that saves you only a second or two—say, instead of dialing, all you have to say is…”Ashley”…



 

MICHAEL MALONE: Cool. Okay, now…

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Wait a minute, why is “cool” the right adjective when the gain, the net gain between speed dialing and “Get me mom”, you know, between kyah and mom, where you don’t even have to push with your finger onto any object, just “mom”, what is the savings there? Uh, an eighth of a second.

 

MICHAEL MALONE: It’s speed for speed’s sake. When you got the telephone, when you got your, when you first got your first desk-top computer, did you say to yourself, “This is going to enrich my life in so many ways.”? You didn’t do anything of the sort. You said, “Oh, I can type on it, man.” And that gave you a little rush of excitement, a little burst of adrenaline, a little thrill. Like, “Oh, this is gonna be fun.”

 

WOMAN’S VOICE:. One, two…

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: And, you will find this everywhere you look. Everywhere. These children are taking off their pants the old-fashioned way, sliding them down their legs. This is not fun. Now, give these same children velcro snap-off pants… Now, this is fun. Or, choose a very different part of life. How about orange juice? When you think about it, orange juice, too, has speeded up over the years. You may remember the very slow and methodical cut-your-orange-and-then-squeeze-your-orange era, not so long ago. But then comes frozen concentrate. You didn’t have to buy the orange or squeeze anything. You just plop it in and you pour. Even faster than that, you could then buy ready-to-pour orange juice that’s pre-squeezed. No plopping, no waiting at all. Except, of course, for that spout, that puzzling, weirdly-folded thing on top that you had to open up somehow. So, even faster was the twist-open spout with the tin-foil protector that you had to peel off. Even faster than the tin-foil peel is the pluck-off top. And yes, fastest of all, the juice box. All you do is stab and suck. And, it’s amazing but we customers embraced each tiny improvement. For example, frozen concentrate sales fell 13% from 1993 to 1998. At the very same time, the faster ready-to-pour option gained 12% sales. So, faster products take sales from slower products. But, who cares about saving one second switching from a peel to a pop? I don’t.

 

MICHAEL MALONE: That’s because of your metaphysics of orange juice. I mean, it doesn’t necessarily… Some people, it means a whole heck of a lot. I mean, …

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: What kind of person says, “Mom, I just saved an eighth of a second opening my orange juice.” No one I know.

 

MICHAEL MALONE: No, of course not. But, an eighth of a second is a considerable increment of time. At the bottom of your brain.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: You mean, something way deep down in my brain…

 

MICHAEL MALONE: Wants better.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: And can measure that kind of interval?

 

MICHAEL MALONE: I think so.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: And, you know what? I decided that he was right, when I found out the Sony company has a discman option that says when you’re listening to a CD you can enjoy playing with less blank space between the tracks. Which means instead of having to endure three seconds between Frank Sinatra and the next Frank Sinatra, you can cut it way back to one second. Save two seconds per cut. I mean, really…

 

MAN: One second is cool.

 

WOMAN: Yeah, ‘cause then you don’t have to… Well…

 

SECOND MAN: Two seconds is a lot.

 

SECOND WOMAN: In California, I think they do that all the time.

 

FIRST MAN: One cut to the next cut to the next cut to the next cut.

 

SECOND WOMAN: A second is a…

 

BOY: Three seconds is too long.

 

SECOND WOMAN: …it makes a difference.

 

BOY: Why do they have three-second pauses?

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Quicker is better.

 

FIRST MAN: Yes.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Yes, it’s always been so, says Michael. If something was speedier…

 

MICHAEL MALONE: You didn’t think of it as, “It’s gonna make my life faster. I’m gonna do things quicker. You know, this is gonna enhance every corner of my life.” It’s just, like, “Neat.”

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: But now, with “neat” comes a little bit of a price. Like, if I were to…

 

MICHAEL MALONE: A little bit of a price? Comes a huge price.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Well, there you go. But, is anyone aware of this?

 

MICHAEL MALONE: No.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Yes, we are. We all know that today we have so many people that can find us, call us, beep us, write us. There’s such a thing as overload, and each of us, in our own way, has to deal with that. And we will, when we return.

 

***********

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Anybody who has ever cooked breakfast for a family knows this already, but Mary Cocus knows it better.

 

MARY: That’s going to, I don’t know, a stack by itself?

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: On Saturday mornings, at her diner in central Long Island, in New York, every ten minutes she’s cooking about ten different breakfasts simultaneously. Which means, to keep all her customers satisfied, she has to keep in her head how long it takes to make toast, ‘cause you don’t want to burn the toast, how long for cheese omelets, how long for home fries, and how long for pancakes and crispy bacon and regular bacon. But, the trick here is that all these different foods take different times to cook. They must be coordinated so that they hit the plate at the right moment. Somehow, she has to keep all of those counts going simultaneously in her head. But how?

 

MARY: That’s just it. You automatically are doing things once you start going. You’redoing, you’re not thinking that, “I’m cracking eggs, I’mputting bacon.” You—it’s just coming automatically. You’re just doing it.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: That’s right, says Professor John Gibbon of Columbia University. Brains just do this, automatically. You know how, at a traffic intersection, when you’re sitting there at a red light waiting? And, without you thinking about it, somehow your ankle starts to twitch just at the moment the light turns green. Well, in the same way, that’s how Mary’s brain learned how long it takes to fry an egg.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: And, these durations of time are in her head.

 

JOHN GIBBON: Yes.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Where in her head?

 

JOHN GIBBON: Well, actually…

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: You can point to it, if you have it.

 

JOHN GIBBON: Actually, in the mid-brain region.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: To show you how this is done, we’re going to enter, figuratively of course, Mary’s brain. Where I have asked my friends Adam and Josh, in their fashion, to demonstrate how a typical brain records how long something takes. In our brains, there are two families of cells. This one you see here is just…

 

ADAM: Pulsing.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Pulsing. Or ticking, ticking, ticking, ticking… Is that about right?

 

JOHN GIBBON: Actually, it’s very close to a model that we’ve been working with for some time.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: We also have cells like this one, which is just listening, listening, listening…

 

JOHN GIBBON: Well, that would be the accumulator.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: So, whenever we have an experience, some of our cells are ticking and some are listening. Now, the first time that Mary cooks an egg.

 

JOSH: Well, looks like we’re doin’ eggs. Let’s see.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: As she has this experience, the listener cells are counting out how long this takes.

 

JOSH: One, two, three, four, five.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: When the egg is done, the listener cell concludes…

 

JOSH: Eggs – five.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: After she’s cooked a few more eggs, the memory…

 

JOSH: Eggs – five.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: …gets permanently recorded, or fixed in her brain.

 

JOSH: Can’t forget now.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: So, after years and years cooking all sorts of breakfasts, Mary’s brain is now filled with automatic counts for everything.

 

JOSH: Eggs and bacon.

 

ADAM: Nine.

 

JOSH: French fries.

 

ADAM: Ten.

 

JOSH: Waffles.

 

ADAM: Eight.

 

JOSH: Pancakes.

 

ADAM: Fifteen.

 

JOSH: French toast.

 

ADAM: Seven.

 

JOSH: Yeah!

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Okay, now we’re ready to go back and answer the question we started the program with, “Why is it when you come upon a rotary phone, why is it that it seems to go so slow?” Well, the reason is once we got used to the push-button phones, the listening cells in our brains decided, “All right. It takes one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand—three beats—to use a phone like this. So, now when you go over and you see a rotary phone and you start to dial, now the counting cells begin to count “One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand…” You should be done. But look, the counting cell in your brain says…

 

JOSH: What’s going on? This is too long. Get this over with. It’s done with. Interval’s too long.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: So, you see, it’s the combination of being suddenly aware that something’s not right and then waiting for it to be done together. You see, that’s why it’s so irritating. And that is why the push-button phones have in a very real way rewired our brains. New technology does change us, physically. But if we’re now hooked into “fast”, there’s nothing wrong with that says this man, Regis McKenna. Fast tools, he says, give us big advantages. So you just like this stuff?

 

REGIS McKENNA: Aw, it’s wonderful. I mean, I think it is… And, by the way, we have no choice for it anyway.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Regis McKenna is one of Silicon Valley’s most famous pioneers. And he’s what they call an early adapter. The newest computers, cell phones, beepers—you name ‘em, he’s got ‘em. And look at this guy: he’s sitting at his computer, looking at his screen, while the very same image appears on an even bigger screen, just in case, I don’t know, he decides to sell tickets. I mean, why do this? “Well, why not?” he says. This is what Americans have always done.

 

REGIS McKENNA: And this has gone on, you know, for two-three hundred years here in the United States.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: First we invent them, then we use them. Fast food, Pony Express, instant pudding, instant coffee, instant cameras, ready-to-wear, self service—they all started here. And, earlier in the century, during the Great Oklahoma Landrush, remember? The settlers who got into Oklahoma sooner got the best land. It’s still called the Sooner State. And, when you marry this American desire to be first with the American desire to be productive, well, perhaps the greatest display of super efficiency ever is in this scene from a 1920 Buster Keaton film, “The Scarecrow”, in which Mr. Keaton and an actor, Eddie Kline, have breakfast together, where you will see them use exactly fifteen labor-saving devices, which we will describe as they appear. That’s number one, the salt shaker on a string. Number two is the self-opening ice box, with number three, the tabletop opener. Number four, the trapeze automatic ice box return. No one, you’ll notice, has to leave the table at any time during this meal. Excellent. Number five, the retractable napkin. Okay, now they’re going to dump that little trolley breadbasket, and number six is the removable tabletop with permanent plates and trap door. That’s number seven, pig chutes included. The rolltop desk and hose is number eight. Though the water does not appear to have any obvious destination. Number nine—multiple condiment removal. Number ten—the lamp. Number eleven—the flowers. The bathtub and loveseat combination is number twelve. First it’s a bed, then it’s a hutch—that’s number thirteen. Look at this—it’s also a piano. Fourteen. And the double-faced tabletop and wall hanging is fifteen. And you’ll notice that these guys were very comfortable with their newfangled gadgets, not unlike our friend Regis McKenna. But, the world is bigger than Buster Keaton and Regis. There are a lot of folks who find new tools mystifying and scary. And, as machines speed up, what is going to happen to, well, to folks like me?

 

REGIS McKENNA: Look, I have s—you know…

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Don’t you know anybody like me?

 

REGIS McKENNA: Oh, I know lots of people like you. I mean, you know…

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: And do you think we’re just, um, just not up to the self-discipline and to the self-education…

 

REGIS McKENNA: No, I think you are actually engaged in it and involved in it as much as most people, but it’s not on a conscious level.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Oh, excuse me! So, we will delve into the unconscious when we return.

 

***********

 

TED KOPPEL: It’s not really all that important, but we’d like to give credit where credit is due on this program, so it was Isaac Watts, the famous 17th-century hymnist, who said, “For Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.” And, while that was many years before anybody had heard of the fax machine or the cell phone, Robert Krolwich may have found just the sort of scene Mr. Watts had in mind.

 

SID: It could do that. Because this is—in a car, its’ a strong single.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: This is Sid, from New York City, a very busy, very important guy, with phones and beepers—two phones at the same time even, though I’m not sure there’s anybody on any of ‘em.

 

SID: Hello? Now. Now this is unbelievable.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Whenever I see people who are totally wired like this, attached to their gadgets…

 

SID: Hello?

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: …I wonder, do they buy these things because they have to, or because it makes them look so, well, so busy?

 

SID: Hello? Hmm.

 

MICHAEL MALONE: When did important people become so busy? It used to be that important people were idle. That was the whole idea—you showed your success and your wealth and your power by not doing stuff. But, somewhere along the line—and I don’t know when it happened—it suddenly became a measure of success to have no free time whatsoever.

 

SID: Okay, I have a call in to Harvey. Harvey’s… I’ll talk to Harvey about it tomorrow, and then you and I’ll talk.

 

MICHAEL MALONE: Consuming time, in the sense of every second is filled, is a way of showing status now.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: And when you work all by yourself at home and the phone does not ring? Michael Malone remembers what that’s like.

 

MICHAEL MALONE: There used to be days when no one would call. And here I was a freelance writer, and when no one called I thought, “Oh my God, they forgot me. I’ve been left out of the loop, I’ll never get a writing assignment again and I’m gonna to have to go work at the window at McDonald’s, with the little paper hat on, and the microphone. And that was my nightmare.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: It is certainly possible that the impulse to buy and use these gadgets is driven in good part by fear, those secret fears that everybody has, that the great cartoonist Bill Stein captures so well. People don’t want to be bored. They don’t want to be alone. They don’t want to be ignored. And maybe, if you get enough gadgets, maybe you can keep those fears at bay. But, there is one fear you can never really conquer. And, so many Americans are now turning forty and forty five and fifty, at the age when for the first time you think, “Uh oh. One day, I’m gonna die.” And that sense that the clock is ticking, that whiff of mortality in the air, may explain why so many people now want to go faster and do more and pack it in, because for a huge group, which happens to include my friends John Flansburgh and John Linnell and their band They Might Be Giants, time is running out.

 

You’re older than you’ve ever been, and now you’re even older

And now you’re even older, and now you’re even older

You’re older than you’ve ever been, and now you’re even older

And now you’re older still

 

Time is marching on, and time is still marching on

This day will soon be at an end, and now it’s even sooner

And now it’s even sooner, and now it’s even sooner

This day will soon be at an end, and now it’s even sooner

And now it’s sooner still

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: So, that is why there’s such recent interest in faster gadgets. It’s a baby boomer thing. And all we’re experiencing now is that generation’s passing obsession with the idea that, “Oh my God, we’re all gonna die!”

 

You’re older than you’ve ever been, and now you’re even older

And now you’re even older, and now you’re even older

You’re older than you’ve ever been, and now you’re even older

And now you’re older still

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Okay, I put it to Michael Malone, this obsession with minutes and seconds and efficiency, it’s all gonna disappear, right? When you and all the other baby boomers disappear?

 

MICHAEL MALONE: I don’t believe it. I disagree. I think we all secretly know that all those events we’re shoving into those individual seconds don’t really give us anything in the long run. I think we have this idea in the back of our minds, and maybe this is why we try to do so much so fast and try to speed things up, is that we’re buying time. If I become infinitely efficient, increase my efficiency, speed up my productivity, I can, at some point in my life, stop and step out of time. That makes my life worthwhile.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: So, it’s not saving time before I die, it’s saving time so I can live—which is the opposite.

 

MICHAEL MALONE: That’s right. We’re trying to save time so we can live. The trouble is we’re addicts to time. And the hardest thing in the world is to stop.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: After all, look at what lots of us do with our free time. Hours and hours every day, we sit, apparently quite relaxed, but look at our fingers. Our fingers have found a gadget that tells the truth about us. Yes, it’s easier to move the joint in your thumb one sixteenth of an inch rather than cross and six-and-a half foot space, which means getting up and then itching and changing the channel. The TV remote reveals something profound about people. Used to be guys did it more than gals, but now, when you get down to the youngest group, girls and boys click at about the same rate.

 

LITTLE GIRL: You want to see “Snow White”?

 

SECOND GIRL: Oh, I want to see that.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: This drives programmers crazy. Even the most popular shows on television, this one for example. Most people who tune in for this show—in my view, this is a drama; to make sense of it, you’ve gotta stick with it for a while—and yet, 55% of this show’s audience watches less than half. They love it, but they leave it. Now, that’s the most popular show on TV. In a more ordinary drama, typically three fourths of the audience disappears without seeing most of the show. Three fourths go away, and that’s normal. And here’s a show I was once on. The TV ratings showed that when this image of a tuba player by a pool of alligators came on TV, more than a million households clicking by said, “Hmm, what is this?” And they stopped. A million extra households—do you know how many astrodomes worth of people that is? But then, just as quick as I got ‘em, about two minutes later I lost ‘em. That is the sound of more than one million households leaving me. So many viewers are now in motion, the advertisers cut their messages much faster, hoping this will keep you watching. But, the faster they cut the quicker we click. So, the ads have to get even quicker and so we found a chief executive who decided, “Well, how about a one second ad?”

 

CHIEF EXECUTIVE: I don’t know that you can say everything you want to say in one second.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Neither do we, but here it is. Thank you.

 

CHIEF EXECUTIVE: It’s amazing how long one second really is, uh, when you see it on TV.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Is that true? Or, at least he hopes it’s true.

 

GIRL: Come on, just leave it on.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: We who make TV know that you who watch TV, many of you, have the attention span of a three-year old. But, that’s what happens when hundreds of millions of people get a gadget that allows them to indulge their every whim instantly.

 

MICHAEL MALONE: Are you suggesting to me that we may be suffering from an infantilization of our culture?

 

ROBERT KRULWICH: Exactly.

 

MICHAEL MALONE: Oh, what a new concept! I hadn’t—that hadn’t crossed my mind. Well, of course we are!

 

ROBERT KRULWICH: Well, what are you saying? You’re saying, then, that gadgets come into our lives, ineluctably speed us up, ineluctably tap into our six-year old gotta-have-it greedy part, and that the world then becomes—

 

MICHAEL MALONE: It also taps into the six— It turns into, our six-year old is the higher part of the brain. It also taps into the medulla, our reptile brain, which says…

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Yeah, so, you’re creating that—

 

MICHAEL MALONE: “Something goes by, eat it.” Yeah.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Something goes by, eat it.

 

MICHAEL MALONE: Yeah, exactly.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: All right, so then you end up, then, with six billion creatures around the world saying, “Gimme, gimme, gimme now!” What kind of a world is that?

 

MICHAEL MALONE: I think it’s the world we currently live in, if you look around you. Is the trend towards infantilization? Yes. Is the trend towards immediate gratification? Yes. Is the challenge for every adult to try to carve out what matters, and to delay gratification, and to fight for these more enriching things? Absolutely. Does it get harder every year? Absolutely. Do I have a solution? No.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: But, maybe there is a solution, and you’re looking at it. We’ll be right back.

 

WOMAN’S VOICE: And, here we are.

 

***********

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: There are people in America who think very carefully about new machines, about how machines can speed us up, about how they change our lives. This is Amish country, near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Professor Diane Humboldt grew up here. So, this is it?

 

DIANE HUMBOLDT: This is it.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: What do you call it?

 

DIANE HUMBOLDT: An Amish community telephone, or a phone shanty. Sometimes they call them phone shanties.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: But, it’s quite far from this farm and quite far from that farm.

 

DIANE HUMBOLDT: Quite far from the house. On purpose.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: This an Amish community telephone shack. Years ago, folks around here decided it’s okay to use telephones, but they also decided not to make it easy. Go ahead in, then the cameraman will follow you.

 

DIANE HUMBOLDT: It doesn’t have any seats. It’s, it’s uh…

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: To purposely make it a little uncomfortable?

 

DIANE HUMBOLDT: So you can’t sit here and talk, chat, for ever and ever, for the whole evening.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: It’s not that the Amish are anti-telephone—that’s not it—it’s just that they want important routines in their lives—their meals, their prayer meetings, their family get-togethers—these things, their leaders say, should not be casually interrupted.

 

DIANE HUMBOLDT: They’re suspicious. They have a healthy suspicion of things that speed things up, and that are too easy. They value hard work, and they have made choices not to get caught up inpace, the fast pace of things. If you choose to use a horse and buggy to get around, that means you have time to think, you have time to reflect, you have time to enjoy the beauty around you.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Then, how do we account for the suspicious success of cell phones?

 

DIANE HUMBOLDT: Well now, that is one of those things that I think flies in the face ofthe value system.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: I did talk with a saleswoman from a local cell phone store and, I don’t want to embarrass anybody here, but she says last year she sold two cell phones every month to Amish families, then three a month, now four a month. And, families used these phones, she says, to call suppliers or customers—business calls, not social calls. Still, if one of these folks does have a cell phone in their pocket, you could imagine a situation where they might be tempted.

 

DIANE HUMBOLDT: So, they are constantly making choices.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: So, bit by bit, in marches speed.

 

DIANE HUMBOLDT: In marches, slowly, incrementally.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: And, far from Pennsylvania, back in Silicon Valley, technology champion Regis McKenna says he’s convinced that in thirty years even the Amish will be on the phone, and online.

 

REGIS McKENNA: I think that they’re adopting the cellular phone because it is a network. It connects them, it connects them with the outside world, particularly the young people. It’ll really have a tremendous impact upon them, I think, ten, twenty years from now.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: You can slow ‘em down, says Regis, but nobody can beat these new technologies. In the end, we will all go faster.

 

REGIS McKENNA: I think that you will find that these technologies change you, even though you try consciously to impose your value systems on it, it has more impact on changing you than you do on it.

 

ANNOUNCER (Space-Age News): Imagine man-made moons, helping us to communicate.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: And why will machines speed us up? What makes them so irresistible? Well, Regis has a view of human beings that not everybody has, but it’s his view.

 

REGIS McKENNA: Hey, we live in a real world. This is how you are—you are a good person by what you do.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: And, the more you do the better person you are, says Regis. We are social animals; that’s why we can’t resist these tools. They help us be social. They help us connect. But, isn’t Regis forgetting something?

 

JACOB NEEDLEMAN: You’ve got two parts to yourself: you’ve got an outer life and an inner world. And what we’re forgetting, in this culture, is the inner world.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Jacob Needleman teaches philosophy at San Francisco State, and he says humans do not exist to be busy all the time. And, of course it’s true. There are times—making love, making art, or just lost in thought. The time seems to vanish. And it’s these times, when we’re not doing, but just being, that’s when the latest, fastest machines don’t matter so much. In fact, that’s how you escape machines, when you want to. The problem is Regis McKenna doesn’t want to. Ever.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: If I took you, Regis McKenna, and stuck you in a sensory, in a closet—nothing even as exciting as a sensory-deprivation device—I stick you in a closet, and I say, “Regis, you’re in there for the next two hours.” Is there any possibility that…

 

REGIS McKENNA: No, I’d be pretty antsy. I’d be, uh—I like to do things all the time.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Well, you could do things: you could dream, you could recite old poems.

 

REGIS McKENNA: Well, you can. Except that, you know, I’m one of those people that believes that you actually live by being engaged in the world.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: Well, no, there’s a world in your head. You’re disengaging from the physical world and joining the world between your ears.

 

REGIS McKENNA: Yeah, in some extent that’s true, but I can’t think “change” and make the world change.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: So, you’ve lived there in that closet for the two hours and you think, “Well, that was a two hours wasted completely.”

 

REGIS McKENNA: Yes, I would think that was a waste oftwo hours.

 

JACOB NEEDLEMAN: I think this fellow—maybe I should, he should learn, he could learn that sitting the closet for an hour or two can be a very rich thing, and nourish your outer life, too.

 

REGIS McKENNA: In my mind, this is a rejection of the world. It’s a rejection of who we are.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: It’s a temporary vacation from the physical universe, which you apparently are never going to take. Have you noticed it’s what you value in life that determines how susceptible you are to these fast machines? If you like doing and connecting like Regis, well then, faster tools are going to be pretty hard to resist. If, however, you value solitude and contemplation, then the very same tools lose their grip. The question is: What do you value? And, we will address that question, musically, when we come back.

 

***********

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: In an attempt, now, to tie this broadcast together, let us admit the following: first, David Pleasant, who helped us score the show, will be happy to demonstrate this—there is something exciting about speed. But, nobody wants this pace all the time. It’s too much. So, what Regis McKenna proposes is: Embrace speed, live your life as fast as you want, but remember that you can create pauses and breaks, to program your computer and your beepers and your cell phone to vary the mood to suit you. The philosophy professor, Jerry Needleman, has a very different idea. On the outside, he says, you can be busy with your schedule and your machines. But inside, try to find the quiet spot where you can go and commune. Escape, he says, to the inside. Michael Malone, from Silicon Valley, offers us a third approach. We have appetites, of course, and desires, he says, but the trick with technology, as with all things, is: be an adult. Control your appetite. You don’t have to buy this and see that. To be truly rich, limit what you want. Less, he says, is more. By any of these routes, really, it is possible, I think, to slow down, get control. Ted, you know, when I started this program I thought it was gonna be about machines. It turns out it’s really about people and their values. If you have one kind of set of values, this is not gonna be a problem for you.

 

TED KOPPEL: I’d love to believe that you’re right, but I don’t. I think it’s about machines. I think there is a tyranny of technology, which determines the pace of our lives. And, 150 years ago, when we lived in an agrarian society, people got up when the sun rose, they went to bed when the sun went down. They did or did not go to Philadelphia for a weekend because it was a hundred miles away. There was just no way to do it in the time available.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: But that doesn’t mean just—if you have a telephone in your house, you don’t have to answer it. You don’t have to answer it by the second or third ring. There are ways to massage this.

 

TED KOPPEL: There are certainly ways to massage it—I buy that much. But I think there are expectations that people have. Because the phone exists, people expect you to answer it. Because e-mail calls for an instantaneous response, people are not satisfied waiting a day or two for a response. The technology, I believe, makes a difference.

 

ROBERT KROLWICH: And you think there’s no place to hide?

 

TED KOPPEL: I think that’s the best possible way you could put it. Right, David?

 

DAVID: No hiding place, no hiding place, no hiding place…

 

 


Date: 2016-01-14; view: 618


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