The fetish of speed

Published: November 25, 2018
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The writer is former ambassador of Pakistan and ex-assistant secretary general of OIC

The writer is former ambassador of Pakistan and ex-assistant secretary general of OIC

If asked to pinpoint one grievous malady that the world of today suffers from, one would not be far off the mark to point the finger at the fetish of ‘speed.’ As one looks around, all one sees is one mad rush. Not that there’s a train to catch, but apparently one that if missed could conceivably lead to earth-shaking consequences — if not worse.

The whole scenario makes one not only dizzy but also a bit nostalgic for the rather relaxed pace of yesteryears. Not that this does one any good. In actual fact, one gets the ominous feeling that things are going to get worse, before they ever get better. The erstwhile tempo of life that was at once relaxed and steady, regrettably now appears to be a thing of the past — perhaps never to return. Humankind’s mad quest for speed, though, may yet prove to be its undoing!

Take the instance of a most common everyday occurrence: the meal. Remember the time when mealtime used to be a most pleasurable occasion — to be leisurely savoured and enjoyed. Alas, no more! People have started eating faster. Gulping down food in the shortest possible time is becoming something of a fad. Relaxed and leisurely meals of yesteryears are no more than a pleasant memory. To look at the younger generation at mealtime it would appear that eating is nothing more than an unpleasant duty to be got over with in indecent haste.

The spawning of fast-food joints — much like poisonous mushrooms after rains — is nothing short of appalling. These establishments dish out food at a feverish pace, with the declared objective of it being gulped down at an even quicker speed. Of course, it makes good business sense for these establishments, given their phenomenal turnover. As always, it is the customer who is at the receiving end. Eating out used to be a most pleasant experience. Fast-food revolution has taken the magic out of this most pleasant interlude leaving it humdrum and, indeed, dreary.

Whether one likes it or not, speed has affected the way of life, leaving it spiritless and lacklustre. Speed has also taken hold of the streets and roadways. Otherwise quite sane individuals can be seen charging down the roads like mad in newer and faster vehicles. What is the hurry about? Is it to meet a deadline? Or, is it just the excitement of living dangerously that motivates our daredevil motorists? One may also make mention of the phenomenal rise in the number of vehicles plaguing the roads these days. Thanks to the much-vaunted macro-economic planning, almost every one can now walk into a bank and draw a loan to purchase a vehicle.

Speed now influences all aspects of human existence. People are living their lives at a much faster pace. Educational institutions are driving young children in a manner that is hardly conducive to good education. Speed-reading is being encouraged — and that by people who ought to know better. People are even talking faster. No aspect of life remains untouched by the fetish of speed. It would be understandable if it were to improve the quality of life. But one doubts it!

All in all, speed has squeezed the spice out of life. Advocates of ‘technological progress at all costs’ argue that with things moving faster, life has become more efficient and streamlined. Maybe it has, but at what cost? Is efficiency, then, to be the end all and be all of human existence? What about the quality of life? Has the mad rush made life any richer? What speed may have given to life by way of proficiency, it has taken away in terms of quality. The imperative need for a happy compromise is evident. What is needed is a collective decision where to draw the line. But, then, who would be the arbiter? That, one is afraid, would open up an entirely new line of inquiry!

Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2018.

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