Sunday, January 29, 2020

Are You One of the Keystone Kops?

Our world has twin obsessions: size and speed. Manufacturers are fascinated by making things smaller, so people walk around with gadgets that have tiny keyboards you can only operate with your thumbs (producing a new disease: strained thumb syndrome). You can cram several days of continuous music onto a device that fits in a shirt pocket without making a bulge. Not content with tiny cellphones, fashion says they must now contain video cameras and MP3 players; while cameras themselves have become so small nobody with normal-sized hands can use the controls.

And then there's speed. Faster is automatically judged better. Instant answers (provided you choose one of the preset instant questions); instant information; instant dessert. This is an age where instant gratification is already too slow. Waiting for anything has become a burden. Because they want everything, and want it now, people cram their lives full of non-stop, helter-skelter activity. Children at kindergarten need personal calendars to keep track of their after-school and weekend events: ballet, football, soccer, Little League, church events. Everything is meshed into a schedule that leaves no time for playing or simply messing around, as children have done for centuries. Add the 8-10 hours they spend watching TV each week and the habits of a lifetime are securely in place.

Their parents are no better. Eat, sleep, work 14 hours a day, drive the children to all their activities, go to bed, get up before dawn to start again. Meals are taken on the run, providing a bonanza for the manufacturers of heartburn and indigestion remedies. There's no time for conversation, for being together, even for sex in many cases. Too tired, too stressed, too distracted.

The theme that runs through all this madness is the same: there is never enough time.
Imagine your favorite piece of music. it has a correct tempo: the one that sounds best. Probably the one the composer intended. It's not absolute, of course. Some performances go a little faster, others slower. Speeding up the tempo adds a little extra excitement: slowing it down may make the piece sound more dreamy or romantic. But there are limits. Played still slower, the melody labors and the piece sounds ridiculous. Played a little too fast, it becomes rushed and out-ot-breath.
Now imagine playing it even faster. If it's a song, it'll start to sound comic, like the Chipmunks. Instrumental music will blur into continuous noise. Faster still and all you'll hear is a wail like a police siren.

It's the same with the tempo of life. It has a correct speed—the one that works best—and a range around that speed which is still workable. A little faster when you're excited; a little slower when you're tired or feel like dreaming. Outside that range, things start to go wrong.

Slowing down too much is rarely an issue today, so we'll concentrate on the faster end. When the tempo of your life is too fast, but still just possible, it also becomes comic. Like The Keystone Kops of silent film days, you rush around idiotically, tripping over yourself and looking like a speeded-up puppet. "I'm late, I'm late," you shout. "Got to go. No time now." And you rush away to your next activity, the last one already faded in your mind. You do know it's really, really funny for the rest of us to watch, don't you?

Speed life up still more and things become seriously distorted. Like the hellish wail of music speeded up beyond tolerance, life becomes unbearable. It's not funny any more. Your health breaks down because your coping mechanisms can no longer take the strain. Mental collapse, burn-out, strokes, heart attacks and suicides are the result.

Returning to the correct tempo is the only way to restore your health and bring back the opportunity to enjoy life. You can do it while you still have your health and sanity; or wait until you're forced into it by physical or mental breakdown. Mankind has a long history of trying to defy Nature's demands. But Nature has an equally long history of getting her way in the end—and she rarely shows any scruples.

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