The book is an in-depth look at how we deal with time in an eternal attempt to beat the clock, to pack more into our days, and to squeeze every ounce out of every second. Gleick highlights several causes of this as he details our infatuation with time over the last century.
The book was published in 1999, but I feel that if I had read it then, it wouldn't have meant much. Seven years later, the book is insightful both professionally and personally.
I work in the realm of time, trying to remove the excuse "I don't have enough time" that some people use when asked why they don't give back or serve others. Therefore, I found fascinating the attempts some use to save time, which are often counteracted by similar attempts from others to slow down.
Personally, I am someone who hates to feel like time is being wasted. I carry a book with me in case I have to wait in line, get stuck in traffic, or arrive somewhere early. I talk while I drive, catching up on messages en route to a meeting. I wake up at 5 every morning, no matter what day of the week, to begin my quest towards filling my day with everything possible in order to contribute to my life's meaning. For me, sleep is overrated as very little can be accomplished when you're unconscious.
Even now, I'm planning how I will maximize 2 hours of flight time to New York next week. Thus, as magazines arrive between now and then, they will go unread until I'm sitting in the terminal an hour before my flight. Why read them now when I'll be stuck somewhere with nothing else to do? Insane, I know.
When thinking of more and more ways to become the epitome of efficiency, I was struck by one of Gleick's analyses. In his opinion, there is a cap on speed (other than light). In terms of human dynamics, speech peaks at about 150 words a minute. But listening is capable up to 600 words a minute. Time could be saved even more, then, if we were only able to speak as fast as we could listen. The only solution is to speed up those CDs and books on tape we enjoy. Using TiVo and captioning, you can actually read an episode of Scrubs in about 7 minutes. Law and Order may take 22.
But, our everyday conversations do set limits on who we are and exactly how fast we can live life. After all, it ends up being the ordinary human interactions that change our lives in the most profound of ways. Very few of us will look back on our lives and thank the DVD player or the microwave for adding meaning and importance to our existence. We will remember the walks in the parks, the big occasions, the little memories, and the times we fell in love. It was these moments, and not gadgetry, that truly made time stand still.
There may be no big rush for you to sit down with this book. I am impressed by the little things, which is why I was impressed by the book. But, it had been sitting on my shelf for over 5 years before I finally got to it. And, even though it still rang true with no mention of Google, five more years unread may make it obsolete.
The best quote of the book, that echoes my thoughts about when time truly stops for us is this:
We were born connected. Solitude came with maturity.