Faster by James Gleick is about how nowadays we multitask and optimize our little hearts out in order to make the most of each precisely-tracked second, yet still seem to have no time to spare. I read the book on the subway and while eating in restaurants. The reason I read it on the subway and while eating at restaurants is because doing so made my time use more efficient — hey, look, I'm packing another activity into a chunk of time I already have blocked off! Very very rarely do I read books at home: at home I can be doing more high-priority stuff, like working on my book and IF projects. (Or, as is much more often the case, staring blankly at the screen displaying them.)
It is therefore perhaps surprising that I also stopped wearing a watch in 1997, after my watch broke and I decided that I was better off without it — can't obsessively check the time if you don't have the current time handy. (This was a bit of a rationalization. Mainly I decided I liked not having anything strapped to my arm. I've been meaning to get a new pocketwatch for years now (I had a Soviet pocketwatch that broke after a few weeks of use) but just haven't gotten around to it, since they're something of a specialty item.) This means that in cases where I have needed to know the time, I've had to steal furtive glances at other people's watches, and I've learned something interesting: they're rarely correct. People keep their watches ten, twenty, even forty-five (!) minutes ahead. This has always struck me as counterproductive. When you set your watch five minutes ahead, you don't fool yourself into thinking you're late and pleasantly surprise yourself by showing up early. You instead get into a mindset of thinking you don't have to worry about the time. Watch says you're a minute late? No problem, it's set five minutes ahead. Watch says you're five minutes late? No problem, it's set five minutes ahead. Watch says you're half an hour late? No problem, it's set five minutes ahead. Yet how many people don't have their watches set ahead? On the subway, like one in eight maybe. Eep.
I realize that here I'm just discussing the topic rather than the book, but I'm flipping through the book looking for something to grapple with and not finding much. Gleick punctures the methodology behind the "discovery" of the "Type A" personality, and points out that breaking down time use gets to be fairly fractal, but mostly he just points out ways we hurry — pressing 88 instead of 90 on the microwave because it's faster, that sort of thing. There's a filtered depiction of our world but not much food for thought.
I would have liked to see a bit more about how political economy type stuff affects how "accelerated" a society is. After all, the utopians told us that with automation we'd have more leisure, not less. It's the future, dammit! Where's my 10-hour work week?
Well, let's say you make pants for a living. Every day you can make two pairs of pants from start to finish. Then along comes the Pants-O-Matic, which allows you to make two hundred pairs of pants in the same period. Now, if this were a better world, you could make your two pairs of pants in one one-hundredth the time and then play the rest of the day. But that only works if other people don't get greedy. And human nature being what it is, that doesn't happen. Someone sets the Pants-O-Matic to 200 to maximize profits rather than leisure and drives anyone who doesn't do the same out of the market. Now you've got a bunch of people doing just as much work as ever, and plus they've got to sell 200 pairs of pants each since oversupply chops away at the price. People don't naturally need a hundred times as many pants, so the pantsmakers have to convince them that they do. Enter advertising, the deliberate creation of unhappiness. Now people want to work longer at their similarly unnecessary jobs because it's the only way to get the money to buy the pants which the ads have convinced them they must have.
If we could just count up what we needed and divvy up the work and the proceeds instead of operating as little islands working at cross purposes, there'd be no need for alarm clocks.