I just returned from visiting family over Christmas, and, as a result of twelve hours spent in transit (and that was with NO delays), I got to thinking about “speed” in our modern society. We’re always told that technology is better and faster, but I have my doubts about such speed in the real world. It doesn’t matter how potentially or theoretically “fast” something is. What matters is how fast it does what it does in the real world.
Because airports are ever more crowded, and over scheduled, and because commercial aircraft don’t fly any faster than they did thirty years ago, flight times are longer than they were thirty years ago – and that doesn’t count all the extra minutes, and occasionally hours, spent in security lines and screening. Train travel isn’t any better, either. The Acela is supposedly capable of traveling between Boston and New York at 150 mph. It doesn’t even approach 60% of its capabilities, of course, because the tracks it travels won’t handle that speed… and because it doesn’t have a dedicated rail system, but must share the rails with much slower freight trains. All that may be one reason why, except in bumper-to-bumper rush hours in cities, most drivers exceed the speed limits on freeways and interstates whenever physically possible. But because freeways everywhere are getting more and more crowded, they aren’t getting to their destinations any faster.
Even spacecraft aren’t flying any faster than they did in the 1960s, not markedly, anyway, and we certainly haven’t been able to get human beings any farther from Earth than we did a generation ago.
But aren’t we in the age of electronic superspeed? Not from what I can tell. Because of all the bells and whistles, firewalls, and electronic security, even my brand-new laptop loaded with one of the fastest processors, and more memory of more types than I’ll ever come close to using, takes longer to boot up and load than my ancient 1996 laptop. Email doesn’t get there any faster, and the whole process effectively takes longer because, even with all those electronic devices and systems, I still have more and more spam that results in my having to take more time than I used to… and any way you look at it, that means slower.
My wife reminded me that not only is the mail slower, but deliveries are fewer than when we were children. It also costs almost 1500% more per ounce than then. This is progress?
As far as I can figure, about the only thing that, in practice, goes faster than it did a generation ago is the money, because, regardless of the “official” statistics, everything that most people need costs more every year. Now… if we could just get everything else moving that fast…