Speed

If we aren’t quite living through the End of History, it’s safe to say that it’s taking a tea break. In Europe at least, there are no huge socio-politico-cultural movements flinging themselves at the organs of power. Whatever’s interesting is happening in small pockets on the edges, or within the closed-off worlds of science and technology. Developments in Asia and the South are regularly noted as Big and Dramatic, but don’t attract our daily attention.

And yet, despite all this, you can still find any number of writers obsessed with the speed of culture, even arguing that “Speed…has become the definition of the present” [Gil Delannoi]. “Internet speed” made some sense in the first dot-come boom, but has lingered as a concept even while the pace of online change has slowed to a crawl.

Where there is speed, it can be not an expression of change, but an alternative to it. So with twitter, which fetishes speed while limiting the possibilities of expression to little more than phatic self-stereotyping. Maybe this is the same as what is happening everywhere; fetishise speed to avoid noticing the (lack of) content.

And none of this is new. Both sides have been around since at least the Industrial Revolution — the one fetishizing speed as a symbol of modernity, the other criticising its emptiness, how it robs us of the ability to appreciate the world. So some of the current obsession with speed (exemplified by this issue of Esprit) has a weirdly retro-futuristic feel to it. It’s like a faint echo of Futurism (“A speeding car is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.” ) — but stripped of optimism, anger and enthusiasm.

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