Living at Fast Forward

“Dad, we’re medical students.  We have no time to waste.  We need to work to survive economically, and we need to memorize and understand a lot of material to survive academically.  Plus, we deserve to have a life.  We’re in a never-ending race.  So we watch video recordings of the lectures at 1.5 playback speed, and that’s also how we do everything else.”

At first I thought Guy was joking.  I could not comprehend how it was possible to listen to a lecture by a professor at the medical school at an unnatural speed.

“Show me how to do it on YouTube.”

“Dad, it’s very simple.  I’m sure you can figure it out for yourself.”

Well, I could not.  So I asked Sivan, my 15-year-old daughter.

“Pick a YouTube video and I’ll show you.”

I picked the song Lalechet Shevi Acharayich (“Devoted to You”) sung by Ilanit, my favorite singer.

Sivan showed me how to change the playback speed from Normal to 1.5.  This song moves me anew every time I hear it.  It is the soundtrack to my relationship with Israel.  Although I could follow the immortal words when I listened to it speeded up, I also found it disappointing to hear, “to live on and within this terrible and beautiful land… to hurt and to fall in love again…” at 1.5 speed.  I felt as if Ilanit wanted to tick this song off her to do list and move on to the next.

In The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry describes how the little prince encountered a merchant who sold pills that quenched thirst so you would feel no need to drink.

“Why are you selling those pills?” asked the little prince.

Because they save a tremendous amount of time,” said the merchant.  “Computations have been made by experts.  With these pills, you save 53 minutes in every week.”

“And what do I do with those 53 minutes?”

“Anything you like…”

“As for me,” said the little prince to himself, “if I had 53 minutes to spend as I liked, I should walk at my leisure to the spring to drink fresh water.”

Of course, one cannot blame medical students for using technology to listen to lectures at 1.5 speed.  Instead of 60 minutes for a lecture, they need only 40.  But what of others who are constantly rushing: to get somewhere, to achieve, to advance?

A recurring motif in conversations with my children, from childhood on, is the importance of time.  They became tired of hearing their father proclaim repeatedly in their young ears, whenever “boredom” was mentioned: “Time is the most precious resource given to people, yet it’s constantly wasted.  There is no place in this house for the word ‘bored’!”

Whenever one of them would complain about elementary school, high school, or the army, he or she would be told, “One of these days you’ll miss this!”  They would subsequently admit that, once they reached high school they missed the obligation-free days of elementary school, when in the army they missed the happy days of high school, and, in all probability, in the future they will also miss (at least some of) their army experiences.

Does someone who moves faster get more done?

Does someone who gets more done live a better life?

In our world, as we are faced with the sensory overload of addictive technology, our challenge is changing.  No longer are we just confronted with gaining and processing as much knowledge as possible.  We must develop the skills to filter and block information, as well as strengthen our “slow-motion muscles.”  We must re-learn how to move slower, and not fill in all the empty spaces.  In a society that is on fast-forward, it bodes well to listen to the Little Prince as he teaches us “to walk at leisure” and if possible, move life-speed back from fast forward to normal.

This essay first appeared in The Canadian Jewish News.

About the Author
Sagi Melamed is Vice President of External Relations and Development at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College, President of the Harvard Club of Israel and author of "Son of My Land" and "Fundraising" - the 1st Hebrew book about Resource Development. Sagi can be reached at melamed.sagi@gmail.com.
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