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Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything

by James Gleick, 1999, Pantheon Books (division of Random House), 324 p., hardbound, ISBN 0-697-40837-1, list US$24.00.

We're all aware that life is speeding up. It's all around us: shorter articles, convenience food, "sound bites," shorter television commercials. Fewer people read these days.  Tests of people using Internet browsers find that they scan and sample, rather than read the Web pages.  There is so much available that we're increasingly choosy about where we spend our time.  Television programming and the 'remote' typify our inclination to multi-task.

Time is perhaps our most important asset.  More of us are working hard at managing where we allocate this resource.  Gleick's book provides many perspectives for the reader.

"The Simplify Your Life movement was born in the 1990's. ... Readers have a choice of books offering 100, 52, 365, 99 and 90 ways to simplify their lives. ... Most people read these manuals voyeuristically, the way they read travel magazines with sublime accounts of alfresco meals and blazing white-sand beaches far, far away—meals never to be eaten and beaches never to be visited."

"The essential simplify-your-life lesson, the idea that launched the phenomenon, is strong and valuable: you have the power to make choices, so make them (p. 90)."

The old time-management adage was "To save time, do two or three things at once.  Times change." The result has been burnout and slipshod quality."   Elsewhere, multi-tasking is accused of contributing the inefficiencies in project management (see Critical Chain).   Recent books now suggest "Do one thing at a time and do it well." James Gleick responds:

"We multi-task because we can."

"Saving time is a complex mission. Some of us say we want to save time when really we just want to do more. To leave time free, it is necessary to decide ... to leave time free. It might be simplest to recognize that thee is time—however much time—and make choices about how to spend it, how to spare it, how to use it, and how to fill it (p. 232)."

The book provides fascinating details about how we spend our 1440-minute days, and how industries pander to our insatiable thirst for doing more in less time. He documents studies showing that most people aren't working more hours than a decade or two ago; it just seems like it.  The book features a detailed annotated bibliography of sources and resources.

"Time is not a thing you have lost. It is not a thing you ever head. It is what you live in." The anecdotes are timely for 1999. My recommendation: Buy and read this book soon


"Business is going to change more in the next ten years than it has in the last fifty. If the 1980's were about quality and the 1990's were about re-engineering, then the 2000's will be about velocity." (Bill Gates in Oil & Gas Executive Report, v. 2, n. 2, 1999).


James Gleick is also author of the highly popular book, Chaos: The Making of a New Science. This is an readable and entertaining introduction to chaos theory and fractals.


—John Schuyler, October 1999

Copyright 1999 by John R. Schuyler. All rights reserved. Permission to copy with reproduction of this notice.