Sometimes, living in modern society gives me the sensation that one might get if, visiting some communist country, everybody around you was loudly praising it as a utopia and a worker's paradise while all you could actually see was destitution, dirt and disarray.
Or-- to make the comparison more specific-- sometimes I feel modern society is like a freezing, frost-bitten landscape where everybody is always wiping invisible perspiration from their brows and groaning about the unendurable heat.
We are told that we live in an instant society, a frantically speeded-up society, that computers and mobile phones have thrust us into a way of life where everything happens in the blink of an eye and the human mind can barely keep up.
We are told this even as our daily reality is sitting patiently while our computers go through their interminable, inscrutable, infuriating ponderings on whether they should go ahead and open that file, or access that web page, or even condescend to wake up at all.
We are told this even as we wait in the supermarket queue for the debit card transaction to clear, as the befuddled customer enters her PIN again and again, and the cashier stares with glazed eyes into another world, perhaps dreaming of a cash-only economy.
We are assured we are living in a kind of whirl of immediacy as we attempt to tap out a text message on our mobile phones, which is probably only a little less laborious than chiselling an epitaph into a headstone or transcribing a line of poetry in a medieval scriptorium.
The motor car is equated with untrammeled freedom even as we witness (and as I am not a motorist I only witness it as a passenger) the constant, never-ending, soul-destroying search for a parking space. What amazes me is the state of perpetual denial that motorists seem to live in. They never seem to anticipate any difficulty with parking, or with traffic. When they do encounter such difficulties, they react as though it has rained tadpoles or a meteor has struck the Earth. They speak confidently of "fifteen minutes drive" from A to B, as though they had never heard of such things as roadworks, red lights or traffic jams.
Even washing your hands becomes a trial of patience in this instant society of ours. I've never used an electric handryer that was a quarter as efficient as a handtowel. The machines bear these pompous names like "Power Dry 5000", but they all seem equally wheezy and inefficient to me. How many readers of this post have come away from an electric handryer with their hands still damp because they couldn't bear to hold up the person standing, patiently and wet-handed, waiting beside them?
My guess is that, if some peasant was whisked from a rural village of two hundred years go to our modern society, he or she would be utterly amazed by the saint-like patience of modern suburbans and city-dwellers. Waiting for the cows to come home might have become a proverb for delay and dilatoriness. But at least you can see the cows coming home. And watched pots do boil. The processes by which the modern man and women are detained are invisible, unguessable and apparently arbitrary. Does anyone know what is actually happening when that awful hourglass on your computer screen taunts you for minutes on end? We are told that computers perform an incalculable amount of processes per second. What exactly is the computer thinking about when it takes five minutes to open a file? The meaning of its existence? Whether William Shakespeare really wrote the plays published under his name? What it is going to do to its owner when computers take over the world?
I don't much like the idea of a fast-paced society. I do rather like the idea of a leisurely, dreamy, slow-moving society. But what we actually have-- a society that pretends to be in a perpetual blur of activity but is actually on almost permanent hold-- seems like the worst of both worlds to me.