Is Time Speeding Up?

The Future Is Ahead of Schedule

Over the centuries there has been much speculation on the nature of change, scientists even polarizing into uniformitarians versus catastrophists (gradualism versus Great Leap Forward), the latter especially championed by post-modern theorists. Some see the decline of our civilization threatening to “speed up dramatically” (Huntington, Samuel. The Clash of Civilizations. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1996, p. 83), others merely remarking the “vertiginous pace of change” (Thompson, Clive. Rage Against the Machine, Smithsonian, Jan–Feb 2017, p. 22).

We can hardly doubt the notable speed-up manifest in almost every sphere of life. I think Alvin Toffler of Future Shock fame nailed it, calling ours “the deepest social upheaval and creative restructuring of all time.” Or as diplomat Ronald Higgins once put it, “Change has so accelerated that the signal characteristic of our [twentieth] century has been exponential growth,” the term “exponential” indicating multiplicative increments, as opposed to additive (linear) ones. “Culture moves in a linear way, technology moves exponentially” according to Alan Murray, president of Fortune (“Get ready for the new disrupters,” Time, November 13, 2017, p.16). In fact, some sci fi predictions have apparently “come true in a tenth of the time [anticipated]” (Brin, David, The Transparent Society, Addison-Wesley, 1998 p. 165).

The skyrocketing “dog-leg” population increase since the Industrial Revolution, “faster-than-exponential growth,” has been noted, graphed, and marveled at a thousand times. (Predictions, though, see it all leveling off after 2050, cautioning the “exponential” enthusiasts that such trends may not go on indefinitely.)

Urbanization: Only 5% of the developing world clustered in cities in the early twentieth century, as compared to its current rate, galloping along twice as fast as in the West. New York City, for example, took 150 years to reach 8 million souls; Mexico City took only 50 years to reach 16 million. (Mexico City has suburbs like Chalco with a population, 3.5 million, exceeding the entire state of Maine.) Twenty-three million people live in the city of Karachi, Pakistan—more than in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark combined!

Similar patterns of growth typify Asia and elsewhere. Today the Pacific Rim is growing at a “pace without precedent… undergoing the fastest period of economic expansion in history” (Naisbitt, John. Megatrends. NY: Avon Books, 1991, p. 184-5). One also notes the “breathtaking” rise of privatization of public goods and services, “governments hollowed out overnight… The disempowerment came with lightning speed” (Rifkin, Jeremy. The Zero Marginal Cost Society. NY: Palgrave, 2014, 163). Globalization itself seems to be both cause and effect of rapid change. “On our globalizing planet, the pace of change keeps accelerating” (Hamid, Mohsin. Discontent and Its Civilizations. NY: Riverhead Books, 2015, p. 9). In fact, Jim Marrs (The Rise of the Fourth Reich. NY: William Morrow, 2008) sees the globalists “speeding up their timetable.”

Sub-Saharan Africa, with its escalating growth, is no stranger to these trends; but that’s not necessarily good news, due to a “rapidly accelerating [i.e.,] divergence of the world’s poorest, primarily in Africa, from the rest of the world… With growth accelerating, political stability and corruption actually worsened, especially in countries endowed with abundant mineral resources” (Stix, Gary. “Volatility Kills,” Scientific American, Apr. 4, 2008, 24).

Syrians (and others) whose countries have so precipitously unraveled under corrupt regimes “wondered how everything had so swiftly come apart” (Malek, Alia. The Home That Was Our Country, 2017. p. 315). But that’s the unstable Near East. What about the “stable” West? What about America, for example? Too big to fail? Or too big to manage? Although the federal government has become alarmingly huge, futurists say it will get even larger—by 2040, “additional buildings will be constructed within Washington” to accommodate almost twice as many aides and assistants (McMoneagle, Joseph. The Ultimate Time Machine, Hampton Roads, 1998, p. 230). As Toffler saw it, this cancerous growth is a sign of “the breakdown of machine politics and… big government… [amidst] escalating crises,” [i.e.,] the nations spoiling to wage “pitched political battles… over who will benefit from what is left of industrial society.”

Yet other observers are stunned by the startling speed with which the Russian mafiya has arisen. But not just Russia. A 2016 survey revealed that the vast majority of asylum seekers in the world were escaping organized crime, gangs, and cartel activity.

There are of course plenty of environmental “exponentials.” A single example: “Unsustainable groundwater use occurs on every continent… Groundwater overdraft is accelerating” (Meadows, Donella et al. The Limits to Growth, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004, p. 71). Even the scientific establishment is beset with “runaway growth,” one critic pointing out that in 1800 there were no more than a thousand scientists in the world, compared to today’s millions. Likewise has scientific publishing run into “exponential growth. Scientists are multiplying like rabbits.” (Lloyd, Seth. “You Know Too Much,” Discover, April 2007, p. 55).

Late in the twentieth century, the Age of Information hit the ground running: printers improved speed time by a factor of eight; and in general, IT is “accumulating data at exponential rates… [even though] our understanding of what is being stored is creeping along” (Suplee, Curt. “Information Takes Shape,” Discover, October 2005, p. 50). Yet Jeremy Rifkin, analyst extraordinaire, sees hope in free sharables like MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and similar cyberspace opportunities which are “riding exponential growth curves,” [i.e.,] exactly like the one that greatly reduced the cost of computing itself.

Ray Kurzweil (“Human 2.0” New Scientist, 9 April 2005, p. 34), spearheading exponential-mania, anticipates his detractors: “A common objection is that there must be limits to exponential growth, as in the example of rabbits in Australia.” [There are those rabbits again.] “There are,” he concedes, “but they’re not very limiting”—which he then illustrates with the prediction that computers will soon be “10 quadrillion times more powerful than all human brains.” Rifkin, however, wonders if there are indeed certain built-in limitations. He asks, for example, if “a mature capitalism [ultimates in] a system at war with itself.” In other words, private ownership can’t be expected to indefinitely foster economic growth, just as, in the arena of technological development, “the very success of the system would become a shackle to its further advance,” (his argument centered on free online opportunities, like the MOOCs).

To stress the momentum of exponential growth, Kurzweil minted “the law of accelerating returns.” Back in 2005, he crowed that, “between 2000 and 2014 we’ll make progress… equivalent to the entire twentieth century.” Such sweeping, even self-congratulatory, statements are typical of our exponential apostles. After all, information tech, as Kurzweil proudly reports, is “doubling its power every year or so.” Biotech is also moving on an exponential curve: “From 1990 onwards the amount of genetic data sequenced doubled every year.” And bully for us. Whether analyzing human knowledge or the size of the economy, “the exponential acceleration of progress and growth applies,” and in Kurzweil’s universe, this is “key to understanding future trends… In thinking about the future, few people take into consideration the fact that human scientific progress is exponential.”

In 2005, Kurzweil cited a scientist (quite a renowned one) who, back in 1953, had predicted, “that in 50 years, we’ll have drugs that allow us to eat as much as we want without gaining weight. Fifty years?” chortles Kurzweil, “that’s far too pessimistic… We can expect them in five to ten years, not 50.” Hmm… that would be by 2015… So is this wonder drug on the market, as per Kurzweil’s prediction? (I hope not; we eat too much as it is.)

Elsewhere Kurzweil speaks of “this enormous change … the quickening [i.e.] nature of technological innovation” (Haugen, David & Susan Musser, eds. Technology and Society. Detroit, p. 166). Actually there are two distinct meanings to “quicken”: 1) become more rapid, and 2) animate, enliven, create; the second meaning sometimes found in exegesis of Intelligent Design, like the Hopi creation myth: When it was time for Mankind, Spider Woman gathered earth of four colors and mixed it with tuchvala (saliva). She covered them with her white cape—Creative Wisdom—and sang the Creation Song. It was then that the forms were quickened into life.

Another kind of quickening—this one caused by radiant Light, now spreading on Earth (with the break-up of the last fields of density in its atmosphere), is allowing new planets outside the solar system to be seen. Indeed, Deep Field photographs keep expanding the number of galaxies just as brilliant new discoveries are made, with Spaceship Earth gliding into cosmic regions of effulgent Light. Some even suppose that Light Beings are thus enabled to “accelerate their interaction with us in preparation for a fast-approaching time of transformation” (Steiger, Brad. Gods of Aquarius. NY: Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich, 1976, p. 35).

Expect the changes to “come faster and faster every year” as this new era—termed ‘Kosmon’ by certain esoteric groups—advances; for “the momentum of change accelerates as one approaches ‘Dan’ [i.e., 200 years into ‘Kosmon’, which they claim began in 1848],” according to this reading the increased light also generates more extreme, more desperate, and fanatical behavior.

“Some people will react in utterly unpredictable and alien ways,” predicts social critic and prognosticator Eugene Linden (The Future in Plain Sight. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1998, p. 143). Hate crimes, it is thought, will only increase along with “willingness to use violence against a perceived grievance”. Terrorism itself is also heightened by the quickening: As FBI legend Robert Ressler (I Have Lived in the Monster, 1997, p. 209) saw it, “terrorism centers around the rapid pace of change… where the ground shifts quickly… [certain] groups tend to lose their moral compass altogether… employing irrational violence.” And with false prophets also proliferating during periods of expanded light, “idolators [fundos] tend to become very aggressive, imposing their beliefs on all by any means” (Hilton, Harry. “Report on Eloist ‘Special Session.” Kosmon Voice, Jan–Feb 1987, p. 10).

Then again, there is always the chance of false positives—at least when it comes to commercial or vested interests. Promoting “acceleration” goes hand-in-glove with industries making last year’s model obsolete, prompting the consumer to “keep up”—the same consumer who is shafted on resale value. Computer systems, says expert Edward Tenner (Why Things Bite Back. NY: Knopf, 1996, 186), are becoming obsolete “within a year if not months.”

Even astrophysics took advantage of the now-popularized acceleration concept to help “explain” a conundrum: this was back in 1998 after the Hubble telescope photographed an exploding star that was slightly dimmer than expected. The “explanation” was that the (so-called) expansion of the universe was accelerating. Although the scientific community hailed this “discovery” as the most exciting advance in cosmology in the last decade, this counter-intuitive speed-up remains unexplained, and might just as well be an optical illusion due to demagnification caused by gravitational lensing; or maybe the supernovae are farther away than their redshifts suggest.

Scientists, IT professionals, exponential missionaries, and others keep telling the public that speeding up “progress” is a good thing. Is this propaganda? The CEO of Uber lavishes praise on SoftBank, one of its investors, as an “accelerator of progress” (Khosrowshahi, Dara. “Mayayoshi Son, The Dealmaker,” Time, April 30, 2018, 110). Michael Bloomberg admires politicians who “can accelerate our progress.” Bill Gates in a recent interview (Begley, Sarah. “Bill Gates on how humans misunderstand progress,” Time, Apr. 16, 2018, p. 23) declared unabashedly, “A thousand years ago, the world was awful. Modernity is a miracle of systems”; though he laments (and assumes) that “it’s difficult for people to perceive progress… It’s easier to accelerate progress if you know how far we’ve already come.” The billionaire may be crazy about progress for his own reasons; but just how much of it can we stand? Quick turnover has its psychological costs: “Rapidly changing trends make us feel marginalized,” muses Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (“Politically Incorrect?” Time, September 12, 2016, p. 30). Or as the humorist Scott Adams (The Dilbert Future. 1997, p. 80) comments, “more people are falling below the ‘incompetence line,’ through no fault of their own.” Possibly worse is what one of our best analysts calls “the pathology of intensity: the single-minded overextension of a good thing” (Tenner, Edward. Why Things Bite Back. NY: Knopf, 1996, p. 273).

Perhaps there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

By Susan B. Martinez, Ph.D.