Life at the speed of technology

By Caitlin Kelly


Have you ever noticed how we now spend our lives in thrall not only to technology — but to dozens of its ruthlessly dictated speeds?

I thought of this when I visited The New York Times building, a stunning white-column-covered tower in midtown Manhattan.

First, like many lobbies now, you have to be buzzed through a set of metal gates by their security guards.

Then you choose a dedicated elevator that will tell you which floors it will take you to — but those doors close quickly! You have to pay close attention and move fast.

We do this every day now, accommodating our pace to that of computers, cellphones, (maybe even a landline, still!), escalators and elevators.

Crossing Manhattan’s busy streets means facing a timed light, even if you need to cross six or eight lanes of traffic. If, as I often do, you’re struggling with arthritis or an injury affecting your mobility, those seconds fly by.

Only if you live in a rural area or don’t spend much time in urban settings can you avoid this tyranny by tech.

I won’t romanticize the rural life — where some students are up in darkness to meet the school bus (more life-by-appointment) — or where farmers’ lives are dictated by the needs of their livestock or other animals.

I do often wonder what life was like in the pre-industrial 19th. century and before, before electricity and artificial light and kerosene and gas, when the only illumination was candles, often reflected in as many mirrors as possible.

When the only noise might be the ticking of a grandfather clock.

When our rhythms were primarily dictated by light and darkness, cold and warmth — not the 24/7 demands of a global economy where someone, somewhere can expect us to do something for them right away.

When a long journey consisted of stagecoach or carriage rides, punctuated with real rest stops and fresh horses.




Here’s a recent New York Times Magazine essay musing on the same issue:

Candle Hour has become a soul-level bulwark against so many different kinds of darkness. I feel myself slipping not just out of my day but out of time itself. I shunt aside outrages and anxieties. I find the less conditional, more indomitable version of myself. It’s that version I send into my dreams.

At night, by candlelight, the world feels enduring, ancient and slow. To sit and stare at a candle is to drop through a portal to a time when firelight was the alpha and omega of our days. We are evolved for the task of living by candlelight and maladapted to living the way we live now. Studies have noted the disruptive effects of nighttime exposure to blue-spectrum light — the sort emanated by our devices — on the human circadian rhythm. The screens trick us into thinking we need to stay alert, because our brains register their wavelength as they would the approach of daylight. But light on the red end of the spectrum sends a much weaker signal. In the long era of fire and candlelight, our bodies were unconfused as they began to uncoil.


I love the writing of fellow Canadian Carl Honoré, whose career focuses on urging us all to slow down.

If you have time (!), here’s his 2005 TED talk, (19 minutes), on why we all need to move ar a much less frenzied pace.

And here are his three books on the topic.


Do you sometimes wish we could all move much more slowly?

26 thoughts on “Life at the speed of technology

  1. yes, i am all about slowing things down whenever possible. i think it allows us to really take in the moments and not be focused on what’s happening next –

  2. Yes! I live in Idaho and it’s a pretty slow paced life here and I enjoy it so much. I’m from the Detroit area originally so for me, this slow pace is healing.. Peace to my entire being. I highly recommend slowing down as often as a person can for as long as they can.

    1. Thanks!

      I think our current pace is very worrying…and I have no doubt this is what many people said to one another in the 1880s with the Industrial Revolution, when we began to be expected to move at the speed of machinery. Which is, basically, insane.

  3. YES to all that is slow and mindful! (Coming from a former multi-tasker extraordinaire.) When I clicked on the author’s website, I had to smile—there was a tab that said BOOK CARL NOW. (As in, not later, NOW) 🙂 A quick decision is encouraged! I will, however, listen to the pod cast— later today. Thanks, Caitlyn!

    1. I was delighted that he tweeted and re-tweeted my link to this blog. 🙂

      Slowing down allows us to be fully present. I think some people stay speeded up because they’re not enjoying their life as much…

  4. I couldn’t agree more. We turn ourselves into pretzels against the clock. I am on holidays right now but I have a bunch of work to do – it’s not good when you need some of your holiday time to deal effectively with work overflow. But this will make things easier and I will carve some time out for myself and M.

  5. Good post. I must admit that I like both rhythms. I like to slow down on the weekend, then speed up during the week. When I was younger and worked in a busy international law firm, the pace was very fast indeed and I enjoyed it. Today, I probably wouldn’t like it as much. The thing that really bothers me about urban living is the air and noise pollution, not to mention crowding and congestion. For that reason escaping to nature (or even the burbs!) is absolutely essential.

    On a completely unrelated note, I watched the trailer today of the action thriller movie, The Commuter, with Liam Neeson in which he rides the commuter train from Tarrytown into NYC. And I said to myself, Hey, that’s where Caitlin lives. The scenes along the Hudson River were gorgeous. Have you seen the movie?

    1. I agree…being slow ALL the time could be too snoozy for me. I’m lucky to have the crazy city nearby, but not in it daily.

      I know, right!? I haven’t seen it, but must. Also, The film Girl on the Train (which was set in London) was also filmed here and the Tarrytown train station makes a micro-second appearance. The film crew used our church’s parish hall as a place to store costumes while filming in Irvington, (next town south) and one scene is at Philipse Manor train station (one stop north) as well.

  6. Yep. The last time I went on a slower pace, was vacation. But even then, it was drive till we get there, set up, eat, then relax. (We had a trailer). But I miss the stars, and the campfires and not having to clock bedtime or wakeup time except by the natural rhythms of daylight, nighttime, and my bladder.

    1. That sounds glorious.

      I’m hoping to finally make good use of my birthday (!) tent this summer; we’re driving friends from Ontario to Nova Scotia, for a permanent move and maybe I can get my act together to get to Gros Morne, Newfoundland and camp.

  7. Over the last twelve months I’ve worked a lot more on my photography, and this has helped me slow down at times, to look up and look for the unusual. Very relaxing for me.

    1. That’s so cool. I am really loving all the photos I now take and share on Instagram — if of interest, caitlinkellynyc is where you’ll find them.

      You do tend to really notice so much more…

      1. In reply to the onset of tech, I have started to buy cheap lens from Ebay as well, manual to get back to how I learnt to take pictures when I was at school. Going manual with a digital camera slows things down as well and has made me more aware of the pictures I’m taking. Plus, I get better quality glass than I could afford with the new automatic stuff.

      2. Smart!

        Jose and I have tiny matching digital Leicas but I still have my ancient 70s era Nikon body and lenses for use with film. I haven’t, but I could.

        My husband’s photo blog, frame36a, would make sense to both of us as wel
        l….that extra frame we could sometimes squeeze out of a 36-frame roll.

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