IF asked to pinpoint one grievous malady that the world suffers from, one would not be far off the mark if one were to point the finger at the fetish of speed. As one looks around, all one sees is one mad rush. Everyone and his uncle appear to be in a frightful hurry. They all behave as if they have an express train to catch. Not any train, mind you, but apparently one that if missed could conceivably lead to earth-shaking consequences – if not worse. One asks oneself, has something occurred lately, unbeknown to one, to put life on this blessed planet in a faster gear, to borrow a motoring phrase? The oft-mentioned ‘global warming’ or possibly the much-vaunted ‘globalization’ may well have something to do with it. Be that as it may, one cannot help having a constant queasy feeling of being ‘left behind’. Looking over the shoulder, all one sees is the rest of the world whizzing past at an awful speed.
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 has 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. One can only grin and bear it while, at the same time, hoping for the best. Man’s mad quest for speed may yet prove to be his un-doing! 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 savored and enjoyed. Alas, no more! People have started eating faster. Gulping down food in the shortest possible time is becoming something of a fad these days. Relaxed and leisurely meals of yesteryear are today 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 disagreeable establishments dish out food at a feverish pace, with the declared objective of it being gulped down at an even quicker speed. Before the customer realizes, he or she is lighter in the pocket, heavier in the stomach and none the wiser for it! Of course, it makes good business sense for those who run these establishments, given their phenomenal turnover. As always, it is the customer who is at the receiving end. The phrase ‘eating out’ had such a pleasant and pleasurable connotation all its own. Before fast-food joints made their appearance and ruined it all, this used to be one of those most pleasant experiences that were looked forward to by whole family. Fast-food revolution has taken magic out of these, once pleasurable, interludes leaving them instead humdrum and, indeed, dreary.
One alludes to the fast-food fad merely as an illustration. Speed has, indeed, penetrated the very psyche of humankind. Whether one likes it or not, it has regrettably become a way of life, thereby leaving one’s existence spiritless and lacklustre. Speed has taken hold of the streets and roadways. Otherwise quite sane individuals are found charging down the roads like mad in newer and faster vehicles. One cannot help inquiring: what is the hurry about? Is it because they have a deadline to meet? Or, is it just the excitement of living dangerously that motivates our daredevil motorists? What our racing heroes tend to forget is that speed has a character all its own. Once it takes over, it is the master. One must 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, every Tom, Dick and Harry can now walk into a bank and get a car loan. How these loans are to be paid off is of little concern to our planning experts, who cannot see beyond their bloated noses.
These are but random instances. Speed is threatening all aspects of human existence. People are living their lives at a much faster pace. Educational institutions are driving young children at a rate that is hardly conducive to good education. Speed-reading is being encouraged – and that by people who should 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 this is hardly the case. It is speed more than anything else that has taken the spice out of life. It is not expedient to be unmindful of the truism that it is invariably the slow and steady that triumph in the long run. The defenders of ‘technological progress at all cost’ would 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, be all of human existence? What about the quality of life? Has the mad rush made life any the 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. It is never a good idea to challenge the prerogatives of Nature and whosoever attempts to do so would do it at his, or her, own peril. What is needed is a decision where to draw line. But, then, who would be arbiter? That, one is afraid, opens up an entirely new line of enquiry.
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.