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The Guardian (Peter Forbes) 11 December 1999

Do you multitask - even off computer? That is, do you invent little micro-routines for yourself, like doing your language lesson just before bed so that you wake up thinking in Italian instead of English? According to James Gleick, we're all doing it: the tasks we want to accomplish need more hours than are available so we have to double up.

Increasingly, time management seems to be the core problem of most people's daily existence. Gleick looks at the question from as many angles as he can find and undoubtedly has his finger on the quartz-emission button. He shows that indices such as the speed of cutting in films and adverts or the preferred length of a soundbite (down from 40 seconds for presidential candidates in 1968 to less than 10 seconds in 1988) have all relentlessly accelerated.

The nub of the book consists of questions like: why do people punch the fetch-lift and push-to-walk buttons on pedestrian crossings so often? Often they do nothing more than assuage the puncher's anxiety because they're dummies, placebos. Even day-dreaming - a use of time Gleick favours highly - doesn't come easily in these situations.

Gleick is a good guide - you can tell he doesn't waste much time. He is in fact the very model of the modern media genius. Nothing fazes him, he has no axe to grind; he sees everything and passes it on entertainingly. His prose style is widely imitated. When he writes about the short shelf-life of books as yet another symptom, you know (and he knows) that his book will be an exception. He writes bestsellers: Chaos, Genius (the life of Richard Feynman), and now this.

The full Guardian review.


San Francisco Chronicle (Kathryn Phillips) 10 October 1999

How did we get here? How did we come to a world that seems to move faster each day, where multi- tasking is a way of life and the promise of time saving is the selling point of technological innovation, even as innovations add new demands on limited time? James Gleick trains a magnifying glass on our speed-driven world, illuminating the modern human's obsession with time and challenging a few myths about our relation to it.

Think of this book, then, as an enabler's search for meaning. In that search, Gleick takes readers into the back offices of time. Faster is filled with so many lively facts and anecdotes about time that it has an urgent tension. It almost makes reading seem like a waste of time, particularly as it reveals how others save and spend it. But Gleick manages to keep a hold on the reader

Gleick reminds readers that time's demands are human creations. ``Even if you feel yourself rushed by the sheer plenitude of things, even if you eat when the clock says to, you can remember that time is defined, analyzed, measured, and even constructed by humans,'' he writes. ``It is not a thing you ever had. It is what you live in. You can drift in its currents, or you can swim.''

Yes, the author grants the time- wasters among us permission to continue our against-the-flow lifestyle. Thank you, James Gleick.

The full Chronicle review.


Star Tribune (Brigitte Frase) 12 September 1999

James Gleick introduced the American public to the emerging science of chaos, and translated the playful genius of physicist Richard Feynman into stylish but never oversimplified terms.

Faster melds science and cultural journalism into literary artistry. Deceptively light, this witty essay on our culture's experience of time and speed is a fast read crackling with aphoristic sentences and pithy chapters. Call it a meditation on hurriedness -- an oxymoron that exemplifies the sort of ironic counterpoint that delights Gleick.

Before atomic clocks, cell phones, nanosecond computer speeds and telephone redial buttons, our timeliness was less compulsive, Gleick argues. We could "spend" time profitably or not. Time passed while we were occupied or idle. "In time," things came to pass and passed away.

Now we waste time, we gain it and lose it, we kill it, we budget and organize it, we move from "real time" to "virtual" time. And every second, split second, microsecond, we are obsessed with "saving" time. Once we learned what time it was, measurable to the millionth of a nanosecond, we could treat time as a quantity, a commodity to be bought, sold and invested.

Maybe all that speeding and time-stacking is a cultural disorder, even a disease. But it's a guilty pleasure too, Gleick suggests. New technologies, like caffeine or amphetamines, are "additives for our engines." We want to move faster, think faster, do five things at once. Why? In part, because we can. What we are able to do, we will do. No society has ever chosen to go slower, he writes. Of course, the ironies multiply.

The full Birgitte Frase review.


Wilson Quarterly (Anthony Aveni) Autumn 1999

In this infectious, tongue-in-cheek romp, science writer Gleick--author of Chaos: Making a New Science (1987) and Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992)--examines modernity's attempts to freeze and squeeze time. He looks at how we poll, trade stocks, package food, and edit TV programs, all with the goal of compacting more information into a shorter duration. The author argues that our quest to live in "real time," where the world both near and far reacts instantaneously to our every action, began with the computer. Gleick is a master at explaining how computers speed everything from air and road traffic to directory assistance.

But he argues that all our time-saving measures don't really add up. The microwave lops only four minutes off food preparation time, and about one-quarter of our phone time is spent on hold. When new time savers render old ones obsolete, we are obliged to learn new skills, which of course itself takes time. Overall, our lives may be less efficient and fast paced than we like to think: according to time usage surveys, the average American spends three hours a day watching TV, an hour eating, an hour on the phone, four minutes having sex (roughly equivalent to the time spent filling out forms), and six hours working. That last figure, despite our workaholic frenzy, is not increasing.

Why does time so consume us? For one thing, we confront too many options, and selecting among them takes time. We also structure our lives so that we can have more leisure--but leisure too can become overstructured, only adding to our feeling of being pressed. In addition, perhaps we seek the sense of accomplishment that comes with deeming ourselves organized and in control, however delusional the belief may be.

The full Wilson Quarterly review.


Salon (Edward Neuert) 15 September 1999

Faster is a wry, many-faceted meditation that takes as its starting point the notion that our lives, both at work and at leisure, have inexorably sped up. That's not a new idea, of course. Get any group of people 35 or older reminiscing, and the topic will eventually be chewed over till everyone sounds like Dana Carvey's Cranky Old Man on "Saturday Night Live": Why, we remember the days when you had to actually go into a bank and see a teller to get cash, when nobody had a fax machine, when we had to keep from playing our favorite tunes too often because, as every audiophile knew, the grooves on the LP needed time to rest; and, dammit, we liked it that way!

Employing a knowing, tongue-in-cheek style and, yes, a suitably fast pace, Gleick examines every time-related dimension of life in what he calls this "epoch of the nanosecond." He observes that "a compression of time characterizes the life of the century now closing," and he proceeds to peg our obsession with correct time, our frustration with things that go too fast or too slow, the evolution of the concept of speed, the pervasive influence of the computer and the effect of the culture of acceleration on the arts

There is a benefit to reading about acceleration beyond the fact that this book is consistently witty and fine: "Faster" makes you consider your own role in accepting the acceleration of modern life.

The full Salon review.


The Boston Globe (Marcia Bartusiak) 12 September 1999

Is microwaving too slow for you? Does traveling at 65 miles per hour on the interstate feel like a crawl? Half a century ago, we were content to measure time down to tenths of a second. Today, we have entered the "epoch of the nanosecond," says James Gleick. A billionth of a second is a length of time where "balls, bullets, and droplets are motionless," he writes. So why do we feel as if we can sense each and every one of those infinitesimal increments? Who set the pace of life's marathon on fast forward?

With Faster, Gleick explores the origins, consequences, and unexpected side effects of a culture shifting into overdrive. He gives voice to that nagging perception held by so many of us that life is going by too fast. Speed dials, remote controls, ATMs, answering machines, shopping, computer chips, sex, government paperwork -- nothing escapes his attention.

Both fascinating and disturbing, amusing and informative, Faster is an eclectic stew combining history, academic research, and anecdotes drawn from the popular media. Gleick even gleaned information from on-line requests over the Internet. Those who seek a more stately, professorial perusal of this phenomenon will not find it here. This is not like his previous work Genius, the studied biography of physicist Richard Feynman. Here Gleick writes in a style in synch with his topic. He's loose, he's breezy, he's cruising along on warp drive. Most chapters are no longer than seven or eight pages. A keen observer and master of metaphor, Gleick shifts from theme to theme as if he were playing a well-honed series of jazz riffs.

The full Globe review.


New York Times Book Review (Barbara Ehrenreich) 12 September 1999

You don't have time to read the book so you read the review. If you're a publishing honcho, you probably don't even have time to read the review; you pay some underling to skim it for quotable adjectives and phrases to insert in the ad copy. So let's save all these busy people a few minutes of their precious time and cut straight to the useful stuff: James Gleick's Faster is nimble, smart, often funny, and -- best of all -- fast. Imagine a lite, carbonated, caffeine-containing beverage with just a slightly tart edge, suitable for imbibing while Stairmastering, faxing or otherwise multi-tasking your way through the day's to-do list.

Gleick, the author of Chaos and a biography of Richard Feynman, has stuffed his new book with tasty factoids about our fast, fast times. He reveals, for example, that those ''close door'' buttons in elevators are often just placebos, with no other function than to make us feel we've speeded up our trip. When we call 411 and ask for ''Uh, Domino's,'' a computer edits out the ''uh'' so it won't waste some operator's time. It turns out that the Old English ''spede,'' as in ''God-spede,'' originally meant good fortune. And here's the ultimate in fast food: there's a restaurant in Tokyo that charges by the minute, not the amount consumed, and at lunchtime people actually wait in line to get in.

But we're not just talking sound bites here. Faster reverberates with huge, weighty questions, such as whether we're doomed to run up against a biological speed limit set by our sluggish old carbon-based bodies and brains.

The full Sunday NYT review.


Christian Science Monitor (Tom Regan) 26 August 1999

Reading Faster is like waiting for "Walk" while everyone else rushes across the street. Perhaps you do feel like a bit of an oddball, and maybe you could do something more "useful." Christian Science MonitorYet, there is something vaguely comforting in the sensation of stepping outside the stream of time that everyone else swims in. And pausing.

Because Faster is a book that demands your attention. As you follow his lead into the labyrinth of "time" and his musings on why life is so much faster these days, Gleick forces you to take a step back and slow down. In a masterly (and somewhat mischievous) analysis, he examines the successive technologies that have pushed us into the fast lane - the watch, the typewriter, the phone, the TV, and of course, the computer. You'll need time to digest and enjoy the wonderful ironies he uncovers about the ways these "time-saving" devices have influenced our world, or indeed, about how they have created the opposite effect of what was intended.

The full CSM review.


New York Times (Patricia Volk) 2 September 1999

On the old television show "Beat the Clock," contestants were given wacky tasks to do while a giant second hand ticked away. The audience howled as grown men and women raced around in gorilla suits with eggs on spoons. In Faster James Gleick says that is what we're doing now. Life is a 33 r.p.m. record spinning at 78. We are a culture of racing, panicky white rabbits. Naturally, you've noticed.

So what are we doing with all this time we are saving? We're having sex for an average of four minutes a day. Seven minutes are lavished on the care of plants and pets. Internet users wait nine minutes daily for their Web sites to materialize. Sixteen minutes drop into the black hole of looking for lost objects. "The software industry alone leaves Americans waiting on hold for an estimated three billion minutes a year," Gleick writes. Television sucks up three hours a day. A strategy for bargaining power is bragging about how little time you have: "The more time you have on your hands, the less important you must be."

In rat-a-tat yet elegant prose, Gleick hammers out precisely how time-driven we are. Smell the roses? Fine, if you order them on the Web and ship them overnight. I tried to think of things no one could make faster. There's dawn. (Unless you jet past the international date line.) There's pregnancy. (For the birth itself, we have the drug Pitocin.) There is still the three-minute egg. Gleick offers compost and soufflés, but I bet you could do something with a microwave.

In years to come Faster will tell people what we were like as clearly as Dickens or Tom Wolfe.

The full NYT review.


Portland Oregonian (James N. Gardner) 5 September 1999

Acceleration is the modern obsession.

Propelled by the quickening speed of technological innovation (think of Moore's Law -- that the number of transistors that can fit on a chip doubles every 18 months -- or the Silicon Valley notion of "Internet time") and the ever-faster pace of everyday life (a cell phone in every pocket, a beeper on every belt), our very perception of time is undergoing radical change.

James Gleick's new book, Faster, is a fascinating overview of the speed-up of just about every aspect of human existence. Gleick skillfully guides the reader on a fascinating tour of the wonders and horrors of the emerging temporal landscape.

The full Oregonian review.


Amazon.com (Julian Dibbell)  23 August 1999

Never in the history of the human race have so many had so much to do in so little time. That, anyway, is the impression most of us have of civilized life at the end of the millennium, and Faster only sharpens it. Elegantly composed and insightfully researched, Faster delivers a brisk volley of observations on how microchips, media, and economics, among other things, have accelerated the pace of everyday experience over the course of the manic 20th century.

Author of the pop-science triumph, Chaos, James Gleick brings his formidable writing skills to bear here, creating an almost poetic flow of ideas from what in other hands might have been just a mass of interesting facts and anecdotes. Whether tracing the modern history of chronometry (from Louis-François Cartier's invention of the wristwatch to the staggeringly precise atomic clocks of today's standards bureaus) or revealing the ways the camera has sped up our subjective sense of pace (from the freeze frames of Eadweard Muybridge's early photographic experiments to the jump cuts of MTV's latest videos), Gleick manages to weave in slyly perceptive or occasionally profound points about our increasingly hopped-up relationship to time. The result is the kind of thing only an accelerated culture like ours could have come up with: an instant classic.

The full Amazon review.


New York Magazine 23 August 1999

A master of popular science writing. . . . Gleick explores the comedy of our allegedly helpless preoccupation with chopping up the hours and the minutes into microwaveable single servings . . . Gleick takes on a series of developments, from overnight-delivery services to instant opinion polls, and shows how they both do and don't fulfill their promises. Irony and absurdity abound, and the mania for temporal compression is endlessly lampooned. We learn that the black space between TV shows is being steadily shaved by network programmer to an almost imperceptible pause; that Olympic sprinters win or lose according to how quickly they leave the starting block, not how fast they run the race; that leather jackets are sold with built-in scuffs, since no one has time anymore to break their jackets in. . . .

He also shows how tiny efficiencies, multiplied, add months and years to people's stocks of free time-then demonstrates how the surpluses are inevitably eaten up by the same culture of speed that created them. . . . Faster burns through such conundrums like rocket fuel. In a chapter on telecommunication, Gleick ponders the so-called telephone lotteries, which pit a million redial buttons against one another in pursuit of hot tickets and other desirable goods. The result: Touch-Tone gridlock. And, more subtly, the transfer of time from consumers to corporations. The more time that callers spend holding, the more time the folks on the other end have to work. Time is an economic tug-of-war. Your loss is their gain.


Publishers Weekly 9 August 1999

* Technological advances in time measurement and time-saving devices have been fueled by the ever-quickening pace of our lives. Or is it the other way around? Gleick, twice nominated for the National Book Award (for Chaos: Making a New Science and Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman) offers a refreshingly contrarian view of the notion of time management and of the instantaneity ("instant coffee, instant intimacy, instant replay, and instant gratification") of everyday life. . . .

Funny and irreverent, Gleick pinpoints the dilemma underlying many of today's technological improvements: that time-saving now comes more from "the tautening net of efficiency" than from raw speed, meaning that any snag in the system-—whether a disabled airliner or one or two drivers unaccountably hitting the brake-—can spread delay and confusion through the network. Paradoxically, too, the increasing pace and efficiency of our lives leads not to leisure and relaxation but to increased boredom: "a backwash within another mental state, the one called mania." This is a book to be studied-—slowly.