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The following text was written during the seminar entitiled "L'artiste, le citoyen et l'entrepreneur" organised by the CICV in collaboration with ARTEC and the Council of Europe during the Festival "La Vallée des Terres Blanches".

The headless wonder ... or the saga of push-button decisions and instant gratification

Amongst the promising futures predicted for the Internet, considerable emphasis is put on the possibility of synchronous communication as in the case of video conferencing or on-line chat. It is also expected that everybody will be able to express their opinions at the push of a button. You may not even have to do that as the memory of your accumulated options are brought together to shape your profile and "suggest" your choices for you. At the same time, the Internet is seen, by commercial actors, as a serious step towards increasingly rapid gratification of customers' wishes. [Aren't those texts that are always talking about what tomorrow will bring rather sicking! My apologies for having subjected you to what is written above.] One of the results of this acceleration is that the time available for thinking, reacting and making decisions becomes ever shorter. This lack of attention paid to how and what we decide is not solely due to so-called new technologies...

Unexpected consequences?

Are there not similarities between this drive to instantaneousness and the liberal policy of "laisser-faire"? [It is as if they were both part of the same insidious family.] In the latter, the individual is convinced of gaining freedom, where in reality the result of such a policy is to concentrate power in the hands of a few commercial actors. In a similar way, the move to instantaneousness promises one thing and does something quite different. It is supposed to bring increased satisfaction when it actually tends to reduce the possibility for thought and satisfactory decision making. Why? Because at some point in the process of thinking (and acting) you need to stop and take stock of the situation. Instantaneousness leaves no time for evaluation. As the sociologist Henri Vacquin pointed out on the first day of the seminar during the Festival "La Vallée des Terres Blanches", in such circumstances there is no questioning of the initial postulates that underlie our action. From the outset, these postulates (whether they be vaguely formulated aims, ways of working, traditions or beliefs) are taken for granted and rarely thought out. As a result, we continue our headlong forward rush without the slightest chance of checking if we are still on the right course. This mechanism no doubt contributes to our vague but worrying feeling of being carried along with very little control over where we are going.

Process thinking

Another consequence of this acceleration is that situations tend to last less time. As a result, when seeking a solution to a particular problem, we are obliged to take into consideration that it is necessarily short-lived. In other words, this shrinking of duration forces us to think increasingly in terms of processes. This may well add to the feeling of helplessness associated with our impression that everything is speeding up. Thinking in terms of processes doesn't come so naturally to us. What's more, these processes do not simply move from cause to effect, but involve the interaction of a number of often complex factors.

Possible ways forward ....

Once we have a clearer picture of the phenomenon of acceleration and its impact on us, the most important thing we need to do is to get into the habit of taking time out to think over what we are doing. Strategies for doing so involve, amongst other things, questioning the underlying values behind our action and trying to set it in a wider perspective. Writing about such issues and exchanging what we have written with other people - because it requires us not only to stop and think out what we are doing but also to dialogue with others about it - is an excellent way of staving off the headless monster that awaits us in the "promised land" of push-button decisions and instant gratification ...

Alan McCluskey, Herimoncourt. Share or comment
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Created: May 17th, 1997 - Last up-dated: May 17th, 1997