back to the future…

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T’other day I was watching a film set in 90s New York and it struck me as strange that, within a short traffic jam, everyone started honking their horns. Firstly, it was a curious noise to hear in these unprecedented times and secondly, in practical terms, each and every horn-honk was completely pointless. Every motorist was stuck in the same jam, with the same urge to get going and the same inability to do so. Surely no honker believed their own honk was going to make the slightest difference to their progress but each honk appeared to offer some form of collective cathartic experience. The drivers were not happy with the reality of their situation and stubbornly insisted on letting everyone else know about it.

In a similar pre-pandemic vein, it was a standard, rueful observation about modern-life that everything moves fast, too fast. A ‘blink and you miss it’ kinda thing. But it’s odd that the other equally valid contradictory observation is everything that happened a month ago, or a week or whenever, feels as though they happened a lifetime ago, that life’s happening too slow. So, too slowly and too quickly. Which is it, as it can’t be both?

Apparently, our personal view of the speed of life’s travel is determined by our ‘temporal bandwidth’ and the more we dwell on the past and/or the future, the thicker our bandwidth becomes and, hence, the slower our life passes. However, the perceived wisdom of today’s psychology, as you all know, is that ‘living in the moment’ is good for us and living in the past or dreaming of the future is to be avoided at all costs as it can only lead to painful regret and stressed anxiety. Now, whilst there’s certainly some truth in that it would be clearly unwise to live in this manner entirely, to believe that forward planning is unnecessary or that there’s precious little to be gained from observing and recalling the past.

One thing, though, is certain: the faster life moves, the worse our collective impatience becomes. To quote an Ernest Hemingway character, Mike Campbell, on his experience of going bankrupt – “gradually, and then suddenly”. Some hugely important things are happening right now, in the present, and we need to learn from them for our future, which we can only do within the context of appreciating the past. I’ll honk to that.