Welcome to Speed, where for the next four weeks we’ll be putting our editorial foot to the floor on all things fast, with almost zero help from Keanu Reeves or Vin Diesel, as far as we can tell (apologies).
Because, as many of you are already aware, having wasted precious seconds of personal bandwidth on the decision to read this next paragraph, speed is the currency of the age. What better time to go Goose and Maverick on the topic than the present, when our collective need for speed has hit unprecedented levels — on both a global and personal scale — whether it’s the kind in our prescription bottles or our technology.
We’ll be celebrating fast things and fast people, from electric cars to Usain Bolt, as well as highlighting novel ways for regular things and people to go much faster. (Coming soon: “How to Do All of Your Christmas Shopping in 30 Seconds.”) From neurons to Nikes, we’ll offer quickies on how to text faster, run faster, speed read, and speed eat (69 hot dogs in ten minutes), among other crucially important, velocity-enhancing lifestyle hacks. We’ll also find out what it feels like to crash violently into the wall at Talladega, downhill ski at 158 mph, skydive from space, get beaned by a Noah Syndergaard fastball, and be unceremoniously ejected from an in-motion carnival ride. And if it’s fun, fast, or record-setting in the news, we’ll be on that, too — like a bat out of hell (specifically the Brazilian free-tailed bat, now the fastest horizontal flier on Earth).
With an estimated 10 billion things connected to the internet, these days, if it’s not fast enough, it’s painfully slow. We can’t even wait on lines anymore. And because the demand for our time is increasingly exceeding our capacity, as we fight a daily tide of digital information to process and respond to, we mostly hate our jobs. But when you start to feel yourself grumbling impatiently about the supersonic modern condition, or taking all the fiber-optic largesse for granted, it helps to think back to what life was like just 200 years ago, in the time of Thomas Jefferson.
“A critical fact in the world of 1801,” wrote Stephen E. Ambrose in Undaunted Courage, his transporting book about Jefferson and the Lewis and Clark expedition, “was that nothing moved faster than the speed of a horse. No human being, no manufactured item, no bushel of wheat, no side of beef (or any beef on the hoof, for that matter), no letter, no information, no idea, order, or instruction of any kind moved faster. Nothing ever had moved any faster, and, as far as Jefferson’s contemporaries were able to tell, nothing ever would.”
At the time, before the telegraph and the train, and 100 years before the automobile — when the only known power sources were muscle, falling water, and wind — it took ten days for a messenger to travel the 225 miles of unpaved road from Monticello to Philadelphia by horse. So an uncomplicated decision between two colleagues that might take 90 seconds of back-and-forth today over Slack would for Jefferson and his secretary of State, James Madison, take months to work out as they waited for each other’s replies. It’s a miracle anything got done. Like it or not, these are fast times we’re living in, so might as well saddle up and get moving.