By John E. Carey
Fist Published in The Washington Times
August 8, 2003
A friend commented to me yesterday on the hectic nature and “rat race” of American life. I was reminded of a piece I did for The Washington Times a few years ago. It needed no dusting off. We are still moving too fast.
For a long time I’ve suspected American society moved just too fast. Recently a kindergarten teacher confirmed my suspicion. When I recounted happy memories about my own kindergarten experience, including “nap time,” the teacher told me: “There isn’t time for a nap anymore. We are getting these kids ready for life.”
Now I understand why my generation is such a failure. Too much nap time.
The telephone may also be an indicator we are rushing toward unhappiness and stress. Ever hear anyone say, “Gotta get the other phone. Sorry. I’ll call you back”?
Another favorite conversation killer is, “We’re real busy here. Gotta go. Bye.” Not only are these communications rude and grammatically incorrect, they indicate a warp speed psychology in American life.
And cell phones, fortunately, are everywhere; allowing us to multiplex our minds and our lives. Cell phoning while driving. Cell phoning while eating. Talking on the cell phone at a wedding. I’ve even recently observed fast food restaurant guests talking to each other across the table on their cell phones. Do we really need to communicate this much? Are we discussing Plato or the meaning of life? Not usually. We are often scheduling more work, explaining why we are late, or just wasting time and space on the frequency band.
We drive way too fast. Even while going to work, people cut in and out of lanes at a breathtaking pace. Are they late or can’t they wait to get to work? One wonders. A recent survey reported the average American driver admits he takes dangerous risks behind the wheel to save precious time.
In suburbia the soccer Moms and Dads are notoriously overworked and on the run. The kids’ schedules drive everyday life and especially the weekends. Soccer, ballet, Girl Scouts, Little League, the amusement park, trips to the mall and other activities mean some families have more than one SUV to handle the workload of transporting preteens to everything and everywhere. Kids have even been known to suffer nervous breakdowns because they are so overscheduled.
My best suburban family of friends recently drove three hours to a one-hour wedding and then three hours back so they could get to the next scheduled event.
We are in such a hurry to pack more into life that TV sitcom writers have added many more pages of additional script for a single episode than ever before. Fortunately, the robotlike actors can speak faster than my VCR [we can now update this to a CD Player] on fast forward. This, of course, also means our kids (not robots, these) now utter every sentence as if the house were on fire and they were making the 911 call. And the speed-talking on TV allows more life-enhancing commercials.
So if we didn’t go this fast what would we miss? Or stated another way – why are we doing this and is it sane, normal and healthy? Does this life at the speed of sound give us better “quality of life?” More “family time?” More vacation? More money? Time to read a book? In most families, none of the above.
Usually we are just competing with other speed demons. Psychological pressure grows when we fear we can’t keep pace and can’t compete. Experts say the average white-collar worker fears for his job if he takes more than a week or two off at one stretch. This results in speedy weekend vacations with lots of driving and not much rest. Suburban parents often tell me little Judy or Tommy won’t get into the best middle school if he doesn’t pack more into “the early grades.” No nap time for you slackers.
Statistics do not confirm that all this rushing into, during and after school is building a generation of American geniuses. On the contrary, the school systems and cultural ways of life in several other nations are beating our pants off. And one of the best compensated team of teachers and school officials is right here in our nation’s capital. They also have some of the most embarrassing statistics on educating students. But this may not be due to trying to pack more quality education into the day.
Family life isn’t much improved either, surveys and statistics tell us. Families are more fractured, and a generation of single parents has exploded onto the scene and become an acceptable part of the norm.
Married people say they are “too busy” to have children. They are too busy to stay married also because fewer than one-half of our marriage age population is married. Most are divorced or living together.
And working quickly is not the same as efficiency. My favorite lawyer takes on too much work then tries to work faster, harder, later. Then he’ll make a silly mistake in an easy correspondence. He’ll make up for it the next time by writing a skilled, researched masterpiece. But trust me, there is another mistake out there soon.
Do we get more vacation time? Not compared to just about any European. The legally mandated vacation time in Sweden is 32 days per year. If you live in Denmark, France, Austria or Spain you get 30 days off by law. The Japanese get 25 vacation days annually. Even in China, the workers get a longer vacation than you: 21 days.
The Germans are the most widely traveled and well-compensated with vacation time of any people in the world. Most get 30 days off, but some get up to 48. And Paris shuts down and empties out for a month in the summer because everyone goes on vacation.
Well, Paris has more open stores and restaurants these days because lots of Americans are there for a few days in summer (maybe even a whopping week). The French keep Paris open on a limited basis during vacation season these days just to be rude to Americans and take their money.
Do we get longer vacations? The average Italian vacation is 42 days. How long was your last big one?