My long lost then found friend, Jenn Taylor, just moved back to the United States. She asked the question, “what’s the rush? I am just curious beyond words as to what brought this culture to this rapid speed and the underlying sense that we are always in a hurry. Such a rush. Always a rush.” Here is my long(er) answer to her question. I think the American rush is due to four different phenomena acting together.
First: Many Americans seem to have lost the ability to focus on one task at a time. Multi-tasking is the way to do everything. If you are watching a movie, you should also be texting or talking on the phone (at home or in theaters). If you are driving, you should be eating or talking on the phone. What ever you are doing, you should be doing something else.
Second: Many Americans view driving as not an act in and of itself. It is something stuck between two meaningful things. Get ready for work. Be at work. Driving just needs to be gotten out of the way. It shouldn’t occupy time. The act of driving to work isn’t something to appreciated as part of your day. It is like swallowing medicine. It should be done as quickly as possible and not thought about.
Third: Many Americans lack critical thinking skills. I was riding with Joe down to Paoli. We were coming up to a stop sign. At the stop sign there was a line of cars stopped waiting to turn onto a busy road. Joe and I slowed and moved side by side to chat as we coasted up to the stopped cars. An old man in a Toyota RAV 4 blared his horn at us, punched the gas and blew around us at the left, then swerved hard to get in the lane and slammed on his brakes to stop behind the stopped cars at the stop sign. What did he gain? Absolutely nothing. Joe and I coasted up behind him and just laughed at him.
Where is the critical thinking in these moments? What do I gain by my actions? What is the overall effect? Is it really worth it? Many drivers change lanes constantly even though studies have shown that you gain nothing.
I was in the grocery store and there was a woman pushing her daughter in one of the carts that have the fake car on front. The daughter was mimicking Mom, pounding on the horn in the cart and saying, “We don’t have time to stop. I’m in a hurry. Not today.” What did the Mom gain by always rushing her daughter away from things? What was she teaching her daughter? What would the real outcome be if she did slow and stop for her daughter some times?
I’m sure these questions never crossed her mind.
Finally: Americans seem to have lost the sense of civility and the idea of the public. Our Alderperson argued against light-rail on the fact that it wouldn’t stop in front of her house. (You may be for or against, that’s not the point). The idea that there are things to do for the good of the whole rather than personal gain seems to be gone from many Americans ideology. “If it doesn’t help me, I’m not paying for it” seems to be the new American mantra.
I think all these things come together into a storm of rushing, self-absorbed, multitasking Americans racing from spot to stop without stopping to think about what they are doing or why.