The speed of dark

Robert Valentine Senior lecturer of advertising

Column by Robert Valentine, senior lecturer of advertising

Let us put all pretense aside. This is an official rant.

Mankind has been able to communicate since the “dawn of time,” which we may assume came right after the “night of time.” However you measure it, it’s been a while.

Over time, we have learned to develop languages, then writing and then machines to help us reproduce and transmit the words that represent our thoughts. We have some documents dating back millennia. The mechanisms of communication just keep getting better and better.

We can now stand in the middle of the Gobi Desert and make a simple phone call to a friend who may be standing dead center in the Mojave Desert. Isn’t that amazing? The first astronauts who go to Mars will probably be able to call home on a regular basis, although the time delay might make friendly banter difficult.

Sadly, while the mechanisms of communication have developed, humans have not. One supposes that we, as a species, are less hairy, walk slightly more erect and have a tendency to refrain from eating everything we see that isn’t flying, chasing us or in the firm grasp of someone who has a bigger club. Other than that, we seem to have the same basic machinery for being a human.

As a result, we often need time to think before acting or speaking. The fact that we often fail to take such time doesn’t deny the fact that we need it. Our brains can consider multiple points of view if given enough time. We can examine historical records and, with our imaginations, project ourselves years into the future – given enough time to engage all of the little grey cells.

Despite the fact that we all know this, we act increasingly as if these things are not true. Have you ever received an email from someone announcing a meeting scheduled for five minutes from now? What were they thinking?

Last year, I received an email – and a text – reminding me that nominations for an organizational election were due in 30 minutes. I found no previous notice of the deadline, but that didn’t matter; even if it was a thoughtful reminder, how could I get permission from the nominee and prepare a letter of nomination – and send it – in 30 minutes? I’ve sent messages like that, too.

We are becoming accustomed to messages that move at the speed of light and to senders of messages who seem to believe that we have nothing to do but sit quietly waiting for them to tell us what to do. No planning, no consideration – just plenty of expectation that things will happen.

Well, people don’t move at the speed of light. Sometimes, I think we move at the speed of dark – some unmeasurable movement of time that allows whole ideas to form, to be tested and to emerge as coherent thoughts. It might take five seconds; it might take five decades. Humans, it appears, are unpredictable when it comes to productivity.

This much we know: good work, like good thinking, takes time. It may require research and it may require more than one attempt to express what we want to say. Schedules may have to be changed, and commitments may have to be kept – two very different things that require forethought and planning and an appreciation of consequences.

Above all, humans are not units of production. They are organisms of great complexity; they are spirits of considerable depth and meaning; they are whole sets of ideas and aspirations always moving forward.

Those noble creations are certainly not sitting in a corner awaiting your tardy little email.

Or mine.