Calhoun’s Cannons, The Bay News, Tolosa Press, SLO, for March 20, 09
White Rabbit Time
One way to tell how much our sense of time has been changed by our technologies, MTV and other pop entertainments, is to watch a contemporary film and an old 1950s movie back to back and note how differently time itself is perceived, how few editing cuts were used way back when, how seldom the camera moved (no steadicam in those days), and instead of story telling using the visually symbolic language of quick-cuts and juxtaposed images, note how much time was spent on endless dialogue to “explain” what was going on so the viewer could follow the plot.
Old time was long silent summers on the porch listening to flies buzz, pages-long newspaper stories and an attention span long enough to read them, and the keen understanding that all good things take both time and patience to do right. Every businessman knew that there was fast, cheap and shoddy or there was slow, long lasting quality, and they and their customers never mistook one for the other. Even mothers admonished their impatient children, “There are no short cuts. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
To see how quaint such notions are today, how much our sense of time has speeded up to racing White Rabbit Time, you need only go see a block-buster film, pick up a copy of USA Today (no time for long, complex stories, abridged highlights only), or watch TV where every drama neatly resolves itself in less than an hour with no messy real-world blow-back. It’s a world of multi-tasking Twittering and texting while listening to iTunes, sped up layers of activity constantly in search of and on to the next new thing – a nation on speed.
In short, a national hyped-up metabolism always coming to Washington, the original Slow Town, to collide with a government that was specifically designed to . . . well . . . deliberate. And deliberate for months in a 24/7 news cycle culture addicted to ever more New-New-New, which creates an awful dichotomy. The result is that President Obama, in office only a matter of weeks, is now being painted by some partisan political pundits as “a failure,” since he has not “solved” an economic wreck that was 30 years in the making in time for the closing credits and a commercial. And it remains to be seen if there are enough grandmothers left to admonish the whole country to sit down and stop fidgeting.
It also remains unclear whether enough Americans, running on our self-created White Rabbit speed-time, which is now fueled by genuine fear, will take time to stop and breathe and understand that We The People are at a crossroads and have a critical choice. We can rush for a quick fix – fast, cheap, and temporary – or we can find a new time sense to build for the long haul, give ourselves the time needed to restructure our entire economy and make the long-term fixes we neglected on our destructive 30-year slide.
As we secretly always knew he would be, the Piper is here and we can hide under the bed until the house falls down from his huge fist pounding down the door, or we can start the slow, deliberate process of a long overdue overhaul, one careful rebuilt step linked to another careful step: Infrastructure and green energy independence linked to both home and business; national healthcare hooked to both Main Street and Wall Street; with improved education and re-training acting as the engine needed to drive our new national transition.
From sea to shinning sea, we are now faced with rebuilding our Rome. And the question is, do we follow White Rabbit Time and build fast, cheap, and shoddy, or shift to Granny Time and give ourselves time to build smart for the long term? Penny wise, pound foolish or just pound smart from day one?
And, most important, we need the courage to sit quietly for a time. And in that silence, perhaps we’ll be able to hear the rattle and hum of the innovation, invention, and transformative technologies which are all around us. So many clever, clear-eyed people busy with their dreams, dreams that will change all our lives. All they need is a little old-fashioned Granny Time to do their work. So, America, sit down, eat your spinach, get your own life in order and wait. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was America.