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Go Modern, But Go Slow

By Ray Bowden, U.S. Air Force Academy / Published January 07, 2016

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — My mother recently gave me a rotary phone my grandparents owned. It’s jet black, heavy as a brick, and hung on a wall above their microwave oven for more than 30 years before they opted to “go modern” in the 80s. The dial alone is a brilliant work of retro art — it’s four inches in diameter, almost a centimeter thick, and rotates at a glacially slow pace.

I remember standing on a stool with my grubby fingers wrapped around that phone in the 70s, thinking how cool it was to hear someone’s voice over the line. To a 5-year-old, it was a miracle, a product of fourth-dimension physics as inexplicable as Schrödinger’s cat.
A few days ago, with the phone on my kitchen table, I dialed my grandparent’s phone number — which has remained the same since 1957, save a few changes of area code — to see how long it would take. It took 27 seconds for the seven-digit number to cycle through.

I may have thought that phone was a marvel of modern science in 1975, but today we can contact someone in a tenth of that time by scrolling through our cellphone contacts and pressing one button. Today, we send emails or texts in nanoseconds instead of letters, which often take days to arrive. The tactile sensation of putting a good pen to paper and composing a personal letter has become a thing of the past, like Wooly Mammoths or Pac Man. Letter writing is a lost art; replaced by binary forms of communication that instantly zip across the globe. We don’t want to spend the time to think about writing a letter; we just want to slam out a few poorly abbreviated words in an email and be done with it while we wait for a response.

Our world is fast. Our planet spins in orbit at 18 miles a second; we launch space shuttles that leave the Earth’s atmosphere at 27,000 mph, we travel in aircraft that slice through the air at 500 mph; we drive much faster than the national average interstate speed limit of 75 mph; and we listen to electronic dance music with 250 beats a second. We’re all sped-up and wired-in, hooked up and plugged in, waiting for the next thing to do, leaping up like frogs in a dynamite pond at the next buzz or vibration of our cellphones.

On the job, the speed of technology increases the amount of tasks we’re expected to do while often decreasing the quality of what we’re trying to do. We tend to jump from one thing to another without taking a moment to think about what it is we’re actually trying to accomplish. This is when we make mistakes. Our modern expectations of speed and instant gratification cloud our brain, and we often end up saying or doing something we regret or overlooking a pivotal moment in our lives.
Technology has sped up and so have we. We unconsciously evolve with technology while we consciously expect to deliver and receive instantaneously. We want immediate results. We can’t wait. We all have “Shiny Object Syndrome.” Whether it’s a text, a pizza delivery, a work product or a personal relationship, we have no patience. We often don’t give a situation the thought it deserves. We don’t make deliberate, thoughtful decisions anymore — we just “do.”

How often have you thought the amount of things you have to do in your life excuses you from addressing a situation with care, tact and delicacy? How often have you heard what someone was saying but didn’t really listen because you were thinking about something else? You were probably thinking about what you expected or wanted.

I’ve decided to go slow this year. I’ve decided to really think about what I’m doing, what I’m saying and how I choose to communicate. No more “Shiny Object Syndrome” or “Sqirrelitus” for me. Speed is fun, speed is convenient, but speed can kill a personal or professional relationship and seriously detract from the quality of a work product. I want to remember those conversations, those work requests, those personal moments I need to pay attention to. I want to give those pivotal moments in my life the attention they deserve.
This makes me appreciate that rotary phone more. Dialing a number that takes 27 seconds to cycle through gave me a few extra seconds to think about what I was doing. I had to think about that number. I had to go slow.

(Authors note: The 10th Force Support Squadron is sponsoring an Introduction to Mindfulness Practice Group Jan. 14 through March 3. Call 333-5177 for more information.)