Acceleration of activities – selected benefits and risks

Activities in business are just one of the categories of acting. After all, everyone also has their own life where they undertake various activities too.  While wondering how to reach business targets faster, we need to look at acceleration of activities in a wider context. 14/2018(20)

Polska wersja artykułu: Akceleracja działań - wybrane korzyści i zagrożenia.

Faster speed of life affects the way we perceive reality. The so-called time compression (Virilio, 1995; Rifkin, Howard 1985; Adams 2010) can be seen particularly well in postmodern (Bauman, 1993) societies. It involves reduced consumption of that part of time which does not contribute to creation of added value.  There is a number of advantages to time compression.

In the philosophical dimension, it can provide a benefit similar to improvement in the quality of life (Mantura 2010). If we eliminate redundant activities from our lives, we can find more free time or use it to multiply our assets. In a business, time compression can be generated for instance by quality management through eliminating incompliance, in particular by applying lean methods to make processes leaner (Hamrol, 2015).

Time compression can also lead to relativization of the sense of life expectancy.  Everyone would like to be immortal. Would we feel good then? We cannot know this but on a first impulse at least a vast majority of us do not want to die. Death is unavoidable, at least for now.

Let us imagine that we can live our lives three different ways. Regardless of what we do, in each of them our life will continue for 70 years. Let us imagine that in the first variant we would eat bread, wash it down with water and take two steps all life long.  In the second case, we would live our lives the way we live them now. In the third variant, we could have and we could do whatever we wanted with a snap of our fingers.  Would we have the feeling that we lived longer in the latter variant? A week on holidays might seem longer than a week at work but if every activity in our life continued for a time leading to zero, the number of impressions we encounter in our lives would be leading to infinity and the more it would be leading to infinity, the more we would feel that we live infinitely long because whatever we did, the time of our death would not be coming yet. Subjective time perception (feeling its impact) is a subject of scientific studies (see e.g. Matthews no publication date).

The economic dimension is another area in which time compression can be seen.  In this case, the benefits can include e.g.:

  • reaching a bigger number of own goals in life (strengthening the “I/we for myself”)
  • external entities we work for reaching a bigger number of goals (strengthening the “I/we for others”)
  • gaining competitive advantage in the environment over other entities (strengthening the “I/we against others”).

Unfortunately, increasing the pace of changes stemming from acceleration of activities might also involve significant risks. The development of technology, medicine, robotics, nanotechnology, biotechnology and other modern scientific disciplines and subdisciplines might lead to permanent changes in the body and thinking of the individual as well as in social relations and forms of social awareness.

Acceleration of activities stemming from time compression which P. Virilio (1995) sees through the prism of 3T formula (transport, transmission and transplantation) might be uncontrolled.  The extremely negative consequences of such development are known very well from history. For instance, a crisis broke on the wave of the positivistic euphoria and fascination with futurist visions of the turn of the 19th and 20th century, being one of the significant factors leading to the outbreak of the Second World War (see: Bauman 1989).

Today, the pace of development of e.g. knowledge is so fast that processing and assimilating it becomes difficult.  A risk is growing that a big part of the society will be alienated, understanding the reality they live in less and less. Such conclusions were drawn by e.g. J. Kuroń (2002), the late opposition member and subsequent minister of labour and social policy.  Development which is meant to improve the quality of life might soon worsen it for a big part of the society.

For instance, automation, robotization and networking lead to cost reduction but also limitation in the number of available jobs.  The aforementioned processes which occurred earlier in production companies are today developing very strongly also in the services sector.  The human being might defend himself against exclusion through constant development of knowledge and competences such as creativity.  It is also important for that development to progress at a similar pace as the development of the surroundings of the human being, whose change dynamic was largely shaped by him.

There is the dilemma if, and if so, how accelerated development of the individual and the society should progress.  The ever more dynamically developing transhumanism concepts, represented by e.g. R. Kurzweil (2005), seem quite intriguing.  It is the core of the transhumanism idea, which is sometimes abbreviated to H+, to accelerate technological changes, including the possibility of applying the achievements of science and technology in the process of changing the human body (the use of robotics, nanotechnology, neurotechnology, biotechnology, etc.). Transhumanists who are members of the World Transhumanist Association have even formed their own declaration (http://humanityplus.org/philosophy/transhumanist-declaration/, 2017.11.19). The directions of activities which they suggested can be embodied in a thesis which they themselves have not made directly:  “The human being has the right to immortality and due to the fact that biological limitations make it impossible, he should strive at deepening knowledge in order to use it to transgress and overcome his biological limitations”.

Thus, the activities suggested by transhumanists lead towards time compression which, however, could lead to the hold-ups described by the aforementioned P. Virili, involving the mechanism of stopping further compression.  It leads to a phenomenon similar to that seen when air is compressed. The more it is compressed, the more difficult it is to compress it any further.

How much can “time be compressed” in the process of activities? Why do hold-ups occur? Perhaps time decompression is an inherent part in the process of compression.  The problem is very significant in a situation when the human strives towards increasing the pace of development. It becomes necessary to get to know time decompression in more detail and to capture the relation between the processes of compression and decompression and the factors which cause them.

Transhumanists draw very closely from the philosophy from e.g. M. Fiodorov who suggested that technology should be used to make life longer. They share the views of such well-known figures of the scientific world as well as science popularizers as M. Kaku (1998) but they also have a lot in common with the best visionaries of the world of literature as e.g. S. Lem who, however, sometimes looked at the possible development of reality with reverie and cautiousness.

The question of the role of technology in the human life becomes important in the context of acceleration of activities. The problem is important today given that a new look at philosophy, taking the shape of philosophy of technology, has been crystallizing for a few years.  V. Dusek (2011) is one of the authors who devoted part of their scientific work to that problem. One could ponder whether the human being still has some influence over the development of technology or whether it is no longer the case as J. Ellul (1954) has it. Regardless of the answer to this question, if we want to survive, we have to either shape the environment we live in or live in way which lets us adjust to that environment.

The human being wants to have as much time as possible, using technological achievements for that purpose, but their use might lead to excessive consumption of resources, especially natural ones.  In the aspect of scantiness of resources, there appears a moral problem connected with limited access to latest technological and other achievements, e.g. those connected with medicine. There is a dynamic development of costly significant modifications in the human body which in the future might only be available to chosen ones, a fact which would lead to division of the society into first and second category people (superhumans and subhumans).  Such a scenario has been contemplated many times in philosophy, sociology and other social sciences, with the authors warning about the consequence of it becoming the reality.  However, in the past, individuals were categorized according to socio-cultural criteria (e.g. in the Marxist class fight theory) or moral criteria (e.g. in F. Nietsche’s superman theory (2006)), whereas today the uncontrolled development of technical and mathematical-natural sciences, including in the area of medicine, might lead to physical creation of “man 4.0”, especially when the developed life-affecting solutions are available to only few people due to scarcity of resources.  The visions of the so-called cyberpunk world which have been present in the literature and cinema since 1980s are beginning to permeate into the world of science.

As we can see, the direction of the changes is not irrelevant. In a situation when the need for accelerated development is being noticed, it becomes necessary to manage acceleration of activities. The direction of that acceleration cannot be random while on the other hand there appears the problem that the impact on the direction and pace of changes in human and society development might be perceived as inference with the freedom of the individual.

 

Sources:

Adams B. (2010), Czas, Wyd. Sic!, Warszawa.

Bauman Z. (1989), Modernity and The Holocaust, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.

Bauman Z. (1993), Postmodern Ethics, Basil Blackwell, Cambridge, MA.

Dusek V. (2011), Wprowadzenie do filozofii techniki, WAM, Kraków.

Ellul J. (1964), The Technological Society, Knopf, New York.

Hamrol A. (2015), Strategie i praktyki sprawnego działania. Lean, six sigma i inne, WN PWN, Warszawa.

Kaku M. (1998), Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century and Beyond, Anchor Books, New York.

Kuroń J. (2002), Działanie. Jeśli nie panujemy nad swoim życiem, ono panuje nad nami, Wyd.

Kurzweil R. (2005), The Singularity is Near, Viking Penguin, New York.

Mantura W. (2010), Zarys kwalitologii, Wyd. Politechniki Poznańskiej, Poznań 2010.

Matthews W.J. Stimulus Repetition and the Perception of Time: The Effects of Prior Exposure on Temporal Discrimination, Judgment, and Production, PLoS ONE, e19815, http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0019815 (dostęp: 2017.08.31).

Nietsche F. (2006), Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Rifkin J., Howard T. (1985), Entropy. A New World View, Paladin, London.

Virilio P. (1995a), Open Sky, Verso, London.

 

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