Time is running out, in a sense. Space is collapsing in on itself, sort of.

Globalization has
transformed the way we conceptualize time and space. Marshall McLuhan describes how,
through communications technology, we have broken down geographically based power
disparities and created a "global-village". David Harvey calls it a 'time-space compression' which
produces different forms of temporal acceleration. Judy Wajcman writes that this phenomenon is
now a major theme in the sociological analysis of post-modern society (59, 72). Communication,
transportation, manufacturing, and global awareness have all be revolutionized and accelerated
by technology, which has collapsed the temporal-spatial distances between people around the
world. But it is not a uniform shift of time or space across all categories, or for all people. The
nature of time as we perceive it continues to be distorted and stretched, but in different
directions. In this paper, first I will discuss how globalization is driven by the imperative of
growth and how technological innovation 'buys us time'. Second, I will discuss the varieties of
temporal acceleration and inequalities therein. Third, I will endeavour to discuss the implications
for "us" in the near future.
As Wajcman points out, most sociological approaches to time compression focus on
capitalism. Marx observed that capital accumulation and time saving are essentially coterminous
(Wajcman, 63). David Harvey articulates the goal of capitalism as increasing "the turnover time
of capital" (Harvey, 229), and that the acceleration of social life follows from this (Ibid, 230).
The old adage 'time is money' has salience here. By increasing worker productivity through
various means and introducing labour-saving technology, less cost is incurred in the production
process and higher output is achieved. Greater profits are then reinvested, thus giving the
company a greater time advantage. This encourages competition from other companies, in order

to survive. This is driven by both macro and micro processes. In the macro sense, economic
growth is achieved mainly through the variable of technological innovation. Robert Solow's
model of exogenous growth stipulates that diminishing marginal returns can only be countered
by time-saving devices. Thus, state and market depend on each other to create the conditions for
their mutual thriving. In a micro sense, individuals compete for the scarce commodity of time in
the form of wages. In the Oscar winning film Wall Street (1988), aspiring trader Bud Fox asks
supercapitalist Gordon Gekko "How much is enough?" In the middle of his lucid reply the crux
is given: "Rich enough not to waste time."1 But for most of us the idea that money can buy time
is counter-intuitive.
The mass production model has not only led us to be alienated from our labour, but also
to desire those products more. In consumerist society, emphasis is still placed on materialist
objects over priceless post-materialist equanimity. According to Marx, capitalism creates false
needs which include the prioritizing of space and materials over time. This is what distinguishes
the Gordon Gekkos of the world from the common person. What is key here is that acceleration
and time valuation are purely functions of competition. The time-space compression that is a
result of globalization is the manifestation of these trickle down processes of competition. It is
useful to consider class inequality in terms of control to time. Money is a means to controlling
time, but only if one is aware of it in this sense. The most urgent manifestation of this is the
'digital divide', meaning the gap in access to information technology, and it is exacerbating
global inequalities. The upshot is that digital technology is becoming extremely cheap for
developing countries and many are beginning to implement strategies to provide all children with
computers.
1 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0094291/quotes

Communications is perhaps the largest multiplier in globalization. Notwithstanding the
scientific and cultural explosion that resulted from the printing press in the 15th century, the
telegraph revolutionized communication once again. Retrospectively called the "Victorian
internet"2, it eventually lead to the development of more advanced forms of transmission
including radio, telephony (electronic), fiber-optic, and now wireless. Through television,
McLuhan sees, distant events are brought into viewers' homes, creating an "implosion" of person
experience. (BRITANNICA) CNN became a beacon of world news, broadcasting globally 24
hours a day the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Harvey draws on the collage of global
products channelled through the TV and their ubiquitous local placement while jobs are exported
to produce those products, to describe the multiple and simultaneous ontologies that are the core
of postmodernism (Harvey, 302). Globalization has 'disenchanted' (in Weberian terms) the planet
by exposing and exploiting every corner of it (in Marxian terms).
The most poignant example of time-space compression, oft-cited, is how mobile phones
can connect us through live video instantaneously across the world, dissolving the illusory nature
of the physical distance between subjects. But to understand the polymorphic distribution of
acceleration in globalization, we must consider how it operates in different spheres. Wajcman
comments on Rosa's distinction between three categorical forms of acceleration: technological,
social (societal change), and the pace of life. Rosa points out the paradox between the
technological and pace of life categories. Time should be more abundant due to labour-saving
devices, but it seems ever more scarce (Wajcman, 62). For most of us, the demands of work still
dominate our daily concerns and valuation of time. For others, we may be overwhelmed by the
inordinate horizon of human experience granted in our free time. But more accurately, the
2 Cf. Standage, Tom. The Victorian Internet.

experience of being harried (or temporal density), as Wajcman agrees, is increased by our intense
multi-tasking habits (Wajcman, 71). Now that we can digitally multi-task in public spaces, our
own private and work spheres have become enmeshed (Wajcman, 68). As technology as
enhanced our ability to multi-task it has also multiplied the amount of tasks we take on. This is
acutely illustrated by the regrettable fact that while I write this essay I'm doing ten other things.
As the rate of societal-change accelerates, I have to push the limits my own time-management
just to keep up. This links us back to the notion of competition for survival.
NASCAR racing boasts itself as the number one spectator sport in the US (Nascar.com),
reflecting Americans' gross appetite for sheer speed and power. Moreover, the current bestselling
Play Station 3 game of all time is "Gran Turismo 5", the latest instalment of a popular racing
franchise, followed by a warfare game series. The close relationship (reflected in game sales)
between speed and war is further interesting for the fact that technological innovation has almost
always come from the military. These references are interesting for psychoanalytic reasons of
death denial and dominance over nature, but I do not have the space-time to address it here. My
point is that our desire for speed may well be driven by a subconscious desire for time, freedom
from earthly limitations, and transcendence, which manifests in capitalist competition and an
unequal distribution of the scarce resource of time. Furthermore, with the exception of 'timeshares', time itself defies commodification. The 'need for speed' (also a very popular game
franchise) is simply built into us, and necessary (survival of the fastest?). Yet we must consider
the notion of terminal velocity with respect to our own limitations. We often pursue greater speed
at the expense of life. Perhaps the following case reflects a respect for such terminal velocities.

In a striking example of the speeds of different worlds intersecting, the popular ultra-fast
European sport of Formula One racing was set to debut in Bahrain, but was cancelled due to the
widespread revolts across the Middle East.3 At the same time Western culture is 'accelerating'
through the desert, telecommunications are empowering Arab peoples to assert their own desire
for speed (read: growth, social progress). Authoritarian regimes of the many oil rich countries
have stagnated economically due to oligarchic expropriation of resources and dynastic
preservation of the status-quo. Following this, unemployment has risen to volatile proportions
while change 'slowed' down. Thus, the intersection of racing and rebellion ironically highlights
the acceleration of globalization.
My titular term 'quickening' has a dual meaning, both of which are applicable in this case.
In one sense, it means the act of accelerating, increasing speed; on the other, it means showing
signs of life, such as when the fetus first becomes animated during pregnancy. This is true in
terms of the various processes of globalization that are accelerating as it is in terms of the organic
emergence of a global civilization. The Middle East revolts are a symbolic 'kick' in the cradle of
civilization, where freedom is being rebirthed. When this process is interfered with, the result is
a "stillborn" (cf. Iraq War).
Looking forward, what is difficult to comprehend for many of us is how technology will
continue to reshape the world. Some had speculated that Moore's Law had reached its limit and
microchip transistors could not be made any smaller, but through the introduction of quantum
computing this limitation has been profoundly transcended. Futurist Ray Kurzweil forecasts we
will reach a technological singularity with the true birth of A.I. (artificial intelligence) around the
3
http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/davidbond/2011/02/bahrain_cancellation_raises_bi.html

year 2045. This is a very serious prediction, based on undeniable trends. The singularity is
defined as an event horizon which we cannot see beyond because it represents the fusion of
biology with technology.4 This is the pinnacle of the unfathomable speed to which we seem to be
accelerating; a terminal velocity, so to speak.

Sources
Harvey, David. The condition of postmodernity: an enquiry into origins of cultural change.
Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1990. Print.
McLuhan, Marshall. The Gutenberg galaxy: the making of typographic man. Reprinted. ed.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008. Print.
Wajcman, Judy. "Life in the Fast Lane? Towards a sociology of technology and time." British
Journal of Sociology 59.1 (2008): 59-77. Print.

4 http://singinst.org/overview/whatisthesingularity

The Quickening: Globalization and our Need for Speed

Formative Essay – SO463

Brent Cooper, #201016147
March 4th, 2011
London School of Economics, MSc. Political Sociology