The Age of Anxiety: Going Faster to Get Nowhere
In a world that creates, devours and discards categories at supersonic speed, the one that best represents the age of anxiety. The fasters. People who consume digital content at a higher speed than the original. They do it with movies, series, videos, podcasts, audio messages, e-books and everything that comes along. They were baptized in 2017 by BuzFeed, a platform that distributes news, games and entertainment. The trend is growing and, worth the coincidence, it is notoriously accelerating. I
Research conducted between fasters to understand the causes of the phenomenon, they obtain answers that share a common denominator. It’s about saving time, getting to the end of what you’re watching or listening to as soon as possible because, they allege, there is too much content and voracity to cover everything. Thus, they get to see in eight continuous hours (without blinking or breathing) the 12 hours that constitute the season of a series. Or they read a book in an hour, surfing the screen at full speed, without distinguishing one word from another. They are, as the Spanish journalist Karelia Vázquez points out in the Madrid newspaper The country, exponents of a pathology that marks these times. Impatience. The urge to arrive without traveling, to obtain results skipping the processes, to slip into the epidermis of life without being pierced by existential experiences.
Professor Raymond Pastore, from the University of North Carolina, studied this phenomenon and, among other evidence, concluded that, at a speed of 1.5x and 1.8x (the ones usually used by fasters), most people cannot understand all the words of a content, nor understand what the central idea is, much less remember, after a few hours, what they heard. Another researcher, Professor Paul King of Texas Christian University, warned that at these speeds there is no time to connect what is heard with what is already known, and that increases anxiety and decreases enjoyment. In the race to devour content, boxes are ticked, as in a crazy competition to fill out a list, but there is no contact with the emotional, spiritual, intellectual or merely informative aspects of what is consumed. It is that the dialogues of a movie or a series, the voices of an audio message or the text of a book have nuances, inflections, blanks and significant silences that were thought and created to convey an emotion, a sensation, an idea or a image, which fasters with their attitude they despise and devalue. Like termites of time, they devour minutes and seconds without getting enough and without dwelling on the nuances of what they engulf. Once thrown into that maelstrom, the only thing that matters is maintaining the speed, which in any case will be insufficient because in a wildly consumerist system the production of hooks that encourage swallowing more and faster always exceeds the possibility of absorbing. There nests, to a large extent, the egg of anxiety, the great mental pathology of the twenty-first century.
The researchers detected in the fasters mechanisms of addiction. They can’t stop doing it and they can’t get back to normal speeds either because then they are consumed and thrown off center by impatience. On the other hand, the fasters they are not alone in the digital world. They abound more and more in all areas of real life. As if running at full speed without stopping, without looking at landscapes and settings and without knowing why, were an antidote to the fear of finitude. A fear that can only be faced by finding the meaning of life itself, the reason for our existence. For which pause, time, and contemplation are needed. And try the old recipe of the Scottish pastor and orator Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847): have something to do, something to look forward to and someone to love.