“Standing still is the fastest way of moving backwards in a rapidly changing world” – Lauren Bacall
By now, it should surprise no one that the world is changing very rapidly, but just how fast is an open question. Michael Simmons explores that question in a recent Article. When looking at the future back in 1930, the big concern was how to use the leisure time enabled by technology. Instead, a quote from the article describes the world that actually emerged:
“Rather than being bored to death, our actual challenge is to avoid anxiety attacks, psychotic breakdowns, heart attacks, and strokes resulting from being accelerated to death.”Geoffrey West
Mr. Simmons decided to study the reasons things didn’t go the way futurists of the 20th century predicted. His conclusion: competition, or something called the red queen effect. This is a hypothesis in evolutionary biology which proposes that species must constantly adapt, evolve, and proliferate in order to survive while pitted against ever-evolving opposing species. Per the article, with humans, we see a shift from competing based on biology to competing based on ideas (cultures, strategies, technologies, etc.). That shift lies at the heart of the speed dynamic: biology evolves slowly, ideas evolve quickly. The world is more connected than ever. We have access to the collective intelligence of society and are therefore exposed to more ideas than ever. Those ideas accelerate innovation, and the red queen effect takes over. Our need for adaptability and resilience was already of paramount importance, but per Mr. Simmons, that’s about to get more intense:
So, life is getting faster? The word Exponential is probably familiar to most people by now, but its connection to expected acceleration is probably not as understood. An often-used story helps describe this phenomenon. Using the Second Half of the Chessboard as a metaphor, the story – attributed to different origins including an ancient Indian King and his wise man who invented chess – describes the exponential changes encountered when you reach the second half of the chessboard. Each new square doubling that of the previous. Ray Kurzweil is quoted as saying: “few observers have truly internalized the implications of the fact that the rate of change itself is accelerating.” The articles author quotes Kurzweil again, when he said, “My models show that we are doubling the paradigm-shift rate every decade.” The video below captures this exponential phenomenon over the last 60 years.
You should read the article to dig deeper, but in effect, Mr. Simmons captured Kurzweil’s views this way:
Kurzweil said this another way: we won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century, but twenty thousand years of progress. That red queen effect could hit overdrive, causing us to work longer hours, make more family sacrifices, and race against the machines. Our world therefore is in a perpetual state of acceleration. Mr. Simmons provides several examples of the fast pace of life: fast-forwarding through media content, shortening our language while using acronyms, and books summaries versus books. As I mentioned earlier, competition these days has expanded to include the globe. This is a double-edged sword, as it also means better innovation and life experiences. The question is this: as these paradigm shifts occur at an accelerated pace, do we realize the vision of those 20th century futurists? There is no question that the pace of change will accelerate, but as it does, much of what we know is reimagined. The world of 2040 may have eliminated the treadmill we run on, and if it does, we may just have to figure out what to do with our leisure time.
Until then, the race continues. The author provides several recommendations for living in a world of pace. My favorite is the focus on learning. In his words: “When you set aside an hour in your day for deliberate learning, your productivity for the day may decrease, but your productivity over your life skyrockets as your knowledge compounds.” While the world accelerates, our learning should accelerate with it.