I’ve never doubted that our world is moving faster and faster. Digital technology is behind most of it. One of the most telling symbols may be our impatience when a computer takes just a few seconds longer to boot; we’ll upgrade just to avoid that. And it spreads to other parts of our lives. In Denmark, people talk 20% faster than they did 10 years ago. We’re even walking faster than we used to. In 2007, researchers studied pedestrians in 34 cities around the world. The average person scoots along at nearly 3.5 mph. That’s 10% faster than a decade ago.
It’s hard to argue against people having some extra spring in their steps. But I have to wonder why we feel the need to be in such a hurry all the time. I particularly worry about what the trickle-down effect means for kids in school, and the early signs are dismaying.
Instead of digging in sandboxes and concocting imaginative scenarios, kindergartners in many schools are now having to “prepare for a life of multiple-choice boxes by plowing through standardized tests with cuddly names like Dibels" (pronounced 'dibbles'). The pressures of No Child Left Behind—and its ill-placed faith in educational testing—may leave childhood behind.
This, in turn, has led to a new cottage industry: test prep firms for three- and four-year olds. For instance, Bright Start in New York City charges $145 per one-hour session as part of its Boot Camp series. Parents who want an extra edge also can purchase $90 workbooks.
Is it worth it? While debate rages about whether or not doctors can accurately diagnose depression in a young child, many have begun to see more signs of stress and anxiety in younger patients. Throughout my career I’ve seen plenty of kids who, pushed early on, burn out and give up on their once-favorite activities. For years colleges have been begging high-powered high schools to stop sending them exhausted kids.
A few days ago I was driving home from school, moving at right about the speed limit. A black SUV tore past me. At the next light we were right next to each other. The light turned green, and the SUV raced off. Next light, same thing. Finally I lost sight of the SUV—until I saw it on the side of the road, along with a police car. I wonder if the driver will learn the lesson.