Matthias here. In the 1.5x edition of Why Is This Interesting, Noah wrote about sped-up playback and changes in media consumption. Today I would like to offer some additional food for thought about the relation between speed-up, detours, and society.

It’s not hard to find examples of accelerations that go beyond media consumption. Tinder speeds up mating habits, Blinkist quickens the cognition of books, Prime Now accelerates shopping and delivery, and design sprints pace teams through any kind of challenge. Even fast food was too slow for our age of efficiency: Soylent minimizes the time spent on food intake. 

In Germany, where I live, politicians and economists even believed short-cutting the time it takes to get a high school education from 9 to 8 years (that is a 12.5% speed-up by the way) would lead to a more competitive workforce. Unsurprisingly, the opposite took place: The universities recognized an overall decrease in high school students’ capability for higher education. Students were unhappy with all work and no play and the desired positive impact on the labor market failed to materialize. The experiment was quickly reversed.

Why is this interesting?

The growing focus on direct ways to complete a task or goal (e.g. take as much information in as possible, quickly find a partner, eat food, develop ideas etc.) takes away fundamental qualities of the human experience: reflection, idleness, patience, empathy, surprise, improvisation, indulgence. 

Frankly, I find it pretty weird to let efficiency and optimization reign over personal- or even intimate- aspects of human life. And should the notion of “the faster the better” really be a guiding principle in a world that is already pretty accelerated?

In fact, detours can provide a valuable exercise for oneself:  

“A detour does not simply offer us a new route but also a new position to see the world from and, with it, a new perspective. Getting to point C does not simply disrupt the move from A to B, but helps us see both of them in a different light. (...) A detour ... offers the traveller an opportunity to reflect. This reflexivity is not a solitary, instantaneous cognitive act. It is a long-term, embodied, imaginative exercise of placing different perspectives in dialogue and learning from them.”
– Cultivating Creativity in Methodology and Research: In Praise of Detours p 232.

Detours proved their value in other fields than travel. In scientific research, “detours are a key part of discovery”, in creative fields, detours often lead to surprising results.

Thomas and Martin Poschauko have created 1,000 design artefacts within just four months. The two designers documented their creative experiment in an inspiring book: Nea Machina. Their method seeks to connect head - gut - hand and computer aiming to train perception and creativity.

Image: Nea Machina, Thomas + Martin Poschauko

Martin and Thomas call for responsible and autonomous creativity when using digital tools. They argue that “giving up control leads to more quality”.

What if we gave up more control again, if we resisted more the temptations of efficiency? I believe our lives could benefit from a better quality of our human experience.  

How? Dare to bring more inefficiency into your life. It might be a tough challenge, but less challenging than taking an early morning ice bath. Here are a few ideas: spend some time doing nothing. Skip skipping. Finish a movie, even if you don’t like it. Take the time to get to know someone. Browse your local bookstore. Listen. Watch. Enjoy your lunch. Sit all the way through a boring passage of a talk. 

Or as Matilde Digmann puts it:

“(…) do something that’ll be painted over tomorrow, something just for the joy of creation - bake cakes, knit stuff, start sculpting. Allow yourself the freedom to stray from the path you’ve given yourself and watch the magic happen 🔮🔥🖤.”

Take detours!

Thanks to Noah for initial editing, Matilde, David & Tanja from precious.