You reach the office of the director of the Directorate of Time. He is a craggy, white-haired man called Gernot M. R. Winkler. He glances across the desk and says, "We have to be fast." Here is the real second. Here the technologies of speed reach the ultimate.

"Speed is the form of ecstasy the technical revolution has bestowed on man," laments the Czech novelist Milan Kundera, suggesting by ecstasy a state of simultaneous freedom and imprisonment ("He is caught in a fragment of time cut off from both the past and the future; he is wrenched from the continuity of time; he is outside time . . ."). That is our condition, a culmination of millennia of evolution in human societies, technologies, and habits of mind.

We believe that we possess too little time: that is a myth we now live by. What is true is that we are awash in things, in information, in news, in the old rubble and shiny new toys of our complex civilization, and-strange, perhaps-stuff means speed. The wave patterns of all these facts and choices flow and crash about us at a heightened frequency. We live in the buzz. We wish to live intensely, and we wonder about the consequences.