BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : AUGUST 30, 1999 ISSUE
COVER STORY -- 21 IDEAS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

Q&A: One Man Opts for Slowing Down Instead of Speeding Up


Howard Rheingold is a West Coast consultant on technology and its impact on society. He has written several books, ranging from 1988's Excursions to the Far Side of the Mind, to The Virtual Community: Homesteading at the Electronic Frontier in 1993. The eclectic writer has tried to foster discussion about future trends through his Rheingold's Brainstorms site (www.rheingold.com). He recently spoke with Diane Brady, Business Week's Connecticut bureau chief, about the perils of scrapping time constraints in the new millennium.

Q: We're entering an era when everything from stock markets to food markets never close and people can work at any hour of the day. Is this liberating?
A: Not really. Technological development and human adaptation to technological development have given us a lot of freedom and power. We're beginning to see the predictions of the 1950s come to fruition. But humans have not evolved to move at supersonic speeds. We either adjust to this transnational pace and our bodies suffer, or we modify our bodies.

Q: That sounds severe. How do you modify your body?
A: That's a good question. There's more and more pressure on people to do that, yet you have to wonder how many will succeed. The adoption of the Internet has changed our world so fast. It's hard to know if you're keeping up sometimes.

Q: How are you doing on that front?
A: I am rejecting keeping up with the pace of things. I am trying to spend more time at a human pace. It takes a real effort to get away from the technology now and then. You get labeled a Luddite, but I think it's important.

Q: What's the risk? Can't people just set their own hours?
A: Can you work 24 hours a day? Can you work 16 times faster? How much do you want to work? At what point do you start breaking down? More and more people are going to die. More and more people will get sick. More and more people can't keep up.

Q: So what's the solution? Will we end up going back to the way things were?
A: People may become more selective about how they use their time. In the future, those who can afford to drop out of the rat race will. They'll learn to live at a human pace, instead of the one that seems the most efficient for getting everything done.



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