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The Age Of Speed

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Towards the Lost Paradise

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This age could certainly be called an age of speed. With the technology of speed, the world promises many diverse benefits to mankind. It brings prosperity, comfortable, easy living for some people; the gap between an idea and its enactment is reduced; the shrinking of distances increases the potential for rapid realization of projects (and, of course, of interventions in those projects by others); conflicts may break out more suddenly and then be more quickly reconciled. Science fiction imagines a future world where events happen at the speed of light – with, as yet, imaginary benefits and dangers. But mankind should be alert, in the here and now, to the danger that the technology of speed may not be used in the interests of truth and justice.

Speed, movement over distance in time, is as old as the universe; the sensation of speed was 'experienced' as soon as man was created and covered distances by walking. Man has ever since extended and advanced his power of movement until speed has reached its present, dizzying level and continues to increase. Man first 'enjoyed' speed through his feet, then on the back of domesticated beasts, then in carts and carriages, then bicycles and motor-driven vehicles. Today, man is on the verge of defeating, even annihilating, distances. The annihilation of distance is already a reality in the case of sound and image transmission by processes far ahead of the transportation of objects.

Speed has brought more ease and comfort, but has also had negative consequences. Whether the positive consequences outweigh the negative ones is still an open question, one we can only answer by balancing the technological advances against real and substantial gain in human happiness and in the meaningfulness of human life.

Buses, trains, ships and planes, running on some advanced form of electrical energy, or in the further future space-craft run on some form of pure light energy, will make it possible to cover huge distances in minutes. We will, at the same time, be able to press a button and receive sounds, images, colours, even smells, from long distances. As 'time' and 'space' are effectively reduced, the earth will really become a global village.

Human conquests over time and space are, as we have noted, set to go much further, bringing with them, in addition to many facilities, numerous problems. We are bound to admire advances in scientific research, new inventions and their application – all the wonders of civilization. However, need this prevent us from asking whether the dazzling speed – attained through man's commitment to investigating every detail of the 'book of the universe' – has really served the nobler aims, those rather more important for human life than speed by itself. If, by subjugating time and space, by contracting the world into a village and reducing time costs to near zero, speed cannot reach the higher goals, does it really benefit mankind? If science, penetrating into the universe's remotest corners for knowledge of the whole of existence, made the whole world as familiar as our own neighbourhood, uncovered everything in it, making it, as it were, naked, and did not do so for the sake of the higher human values, needs and desires, would it not be a kind of ignominy to use such a science – to be familiar with the secrets of an individual or a nation, and able to expose them?

Is speed an end in itself? That is, are inventions and developments in transportation and telecommunication made just to indulge a crazy, unreflecting addiction to doing things ever faster? It is doubtful if these sophisticated means of transportation and communication have led to any great advance in human values. We wish that they had, so that we might look forward to the peaceful co-existence of the world's peoples in a world contracted to a village. But it is impossible to claim that the technologies of speed serve any such goal at present.

If we argue that speed is desired, not for its own sake, but for the service of mankind's loftier goals, can we also argue that faster cars or trains or planes really contribute to the attainment of these goals? If they do, we can aim to contract time and space still further – to the very limits of science-fictional imagination. But it is difficult to give a positive answer to that question: the present applications of speed technology are far from achieving the desired goals.

If speed is meant to save time, to get things done faster or to reach somewhere faster, but the time saved, the things done or the destinations reached, are not part of some higher aim more important than speed, then what is all the effort for? If we have no general aim for our speed technology and no specific intention to realize this aim, then all our effort and the time saved will be in vain – like streams of water flowing nowhere, or rain falling on barren ground. Today, some proponents of speed, heedless of any general aims in life, are greatly impressed by a technology that allows one to leave the earth's atmosphere in a few minutes, to carry sounds and images many thousands of kilometers almost instantaneously. They value only the speed, they evaluate only the technology, detached from its general consequences. However, speed is only a material phenomenon. Without specific goals it can be neither a foundation for progress and civilization nor a means to the realization of human values. While mankind found happiness in centuries when they travelled on foot or horseback, they have in this century, unfortunately, suffered from the most horrifying kinds of brutality despite very sophisticated technology.

Speed has never been the most urgent need of mankind. It was and is only a means to an end. A balanced view is important. Some have idolized speed and glorified technological advances, regarding these as everything; others, reacting against the uselessness of speed without purpose, have become hostile to modern mechanisms of transport or communication.

Speed should serve specific aims. It is to be welcomed and valued as long as it enables the realization of human values and human aims; as long as it brings peace and happiness and ends pangs of separation; as long as it contributes to the general harmony of the world and the solution of worldly and other-worldly problems; and as long as it advances scientific research and empowers scientific establishments. Without these benefits, speed in movement or communication is no more than a meaningless, insecure illusion. Aug 1994, Vol 16, Issue 187