Do you feel the need for speed?

The often quoted line, “I feel the need, the need for speed” comes from the movie Top Gun, the original released in 1986. It seems that over the years, technology has advanced to help do everything faster and faster — not just for travel, but work, communication, banking, cooking, cleaning — cramming more and more into every waking hour.

This also made us want to get things done yesterday and for the current generation, speed feels like a birthright. The website page can’t load fast enough or the traffic light can’t change soon enough. We use apps to get from point A to point B in the shortest possible time.

Anything less and we fear losing time or our competitive edge. Some are apprehensive that if they were to slow down, they might run the risk of becoming obsolete. They say they’d rather burn out than rust out. But I wonder, are we becoming masters of speed or is speed mastering us? Will a faster future make us more productive and secure? Or does it make us more vulnerable?

It is clear that the future will be faster. But that speed is paradoxical, and like all good paradoxes, it teaches us about the human experience, as absurd and complex as it is.

The first paradox is that we love speed, and we find it exhilarating. But our brains haven’t really evolved to deal with this speed, so even though we invent roller coasters, race cars, and supersonic planes, we still get whiplash, carsick and jet-lagged.

We didn’t evolve to multitask. Rather, we evolved to do one thing with incredible focus, like hunt—not necessarily with great speed but with endurance for great distance. Now there’s a widening gap between our biology and our lifestyles, a mismatch between what our bodies are built for and what we’re making them do. It’s a phenomenon some have called “Stone Agers in the fast lane.”

The second paradox of speed is that it can be measured objectively. Miles per hour, gigabytes per second. But how speed feels, and whether we like it, is highly subjective.

The pace at which we are adopting new technologies is increasing. For instance, it took 85 years from the invention of the telephone to have most homes equipped with one. In contrast, it only took 13 years for most of us to have smartphones.

A third paradox is that speed begets speed. The faster you respond, the more responses you get, the faster you have to respond again.

And here’s one more paradox: if all of these faster technologies were supposed to free us from all this hard work, why do we all feel so pressed for time? Why are we crashing our cars in record numbers, because we think we have to answer that text right away? Why do we insist on pushing patients through the emergency room without waiting for preliminary results that come from machines and processes that are designed to make healthcare more “efficient?”

When we have to make fast decisions, autopilot brain kicks in, and we rely on our learned behaviors, our reflexes, our cognitive biases, to help us perceive and respond quickly. Sometimes that saves our lives, right? Fight or flight.

But in a healthcare environment, it can lead to misdiagnosis, incorrect triaging and basically endangering patient lives. We need to do creative or critical thinking to weed out false information and make sense of complex issues. That kind of thinking can’t be done fast.

What’s needed in these situations is slow thinking. Often, when our society has major failures, they’re not technological failures. They’re failures that happen when we made decisions too quickly on autopilot.

The truth is, speeding up does not help us outrun our problems. There are times when we need to make a deliberate effort to slow things down. To take our time, to wait for all the information before we act. Waiting until you have all the information allows you to save not only resources and time. In healthcare, this can help you save a patient’s life.

Slow time should not be viewed as wasted time. We need to reconsider what it means to save time. And if you are lucky enough to adjust your pace, be grateful for this privilege. It may well be that we need to speed up in some aspects to create slow time. Then take this time to listen, to rest, to linger and to connect.

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