Are you working at Machine Speed, or Human Speed?

The author Jerry Mander posed the question in his potent tract, ‘In the Absence of the Sacred.’ His basic take: as technology continues to speed things up, we will all become more stressed because we will need to work at a pace we were not built for.

Sound familiar?

Now consider Mander wrote the book in 1991, back when dial up internet was the norm, cell phones were a novelty, and some people (like me) still used word processors.

Fast forward to today. Google’s AI technology can help me spit out a dozen email responses in the blink of an eye, giving me plenty of time to comment in Slack, check my cloud-based project management tool notifications, read and respond to a few texts, and coordinate with an employee in Europe, all while logging in and out of a number of apps. All by 9:30am. You know the drill.

On some level, all this technology is really cool.

We can jump on fresh opportunities, collaborate seamlessly with people around the world, and leverage innovation far more easily. And, when we work at machine speed, we can get so much done in relatively short periods of time.

Yet we all know the truth: working consistently at machine speed is not sustainable. It is relentless, depleting, and often, overwhelming.

That’s because we are not machines. We are human beings.

It can be hard to remember amidst the bustle, can’t it? I mean to truly know it.

We understand human speed when we allow ourselves a spacious weekend.

We feel it when we go into nature for long enough. We know it when we let go of agenda and productivity in any way, whether we stroll on the beach, take in a sunset, play with a child, or gaze into the eyes of our partner.

I’m not speaking as a yogi here. I’m speaking as a guy from New Jersey who loves to move fast, get things done, and achieve. Always have, probably always will.

Being productive, being creative, serving a useful purpose and getting things done can all be wonderful aspects of being alive. It’s a question of scope, and a question of pace.

The irony is that when we work at machine speed in an effort to do too much of these things too fast, we strip the humanity out of our experience.

How often have you put in that 8-hour day and thought, “Wow, I don’t even know what the heck just happened, but I do know a lot of things happened”?

That’s because we can’t be fully present and work at machine speed. There is always more to do, faster, better!

Presence doesn’t need to mean slowing down from 5000 RPMs to idle. Or hopping out of the car for a week off (most likely chock full of activities – same pattern) and then jumping right back in at 6000 RPMs to make up for lost time.

Sometimes, yes. Other times, presence could mean just be shaving off a few hundred RPMs. To get out of redline and stay at Human Speed. Consistently.

What changes when we work at Human Speed?

First off, we are more fulfilled. We enjoy our work more.

We produce better things. Think of the master artist – is he moving fast around his studio, or is she taking great care with each refinement, utterly present with her work?

We feel less stress. And so we feel better, and we treat others better.

It’s hard to go all day at 5000 or 6000 or 7000 RPMs, stay connected to our phones until 8 or 9pm, and then expect to be able to slide into 800 RPMs for a consistent, peaceful sleep. For most of us, ain’t gonna happen.

So we wake up depleted. Down some caffeine. Go straight back to 5000 RPM, seeking dopamine hits from endless task completion.

Rinse, repeat.

Life flies. We’re 40. Then 50. Then 60. Then, boom: where did it all go? I did all this great work. Did I enjoy it? Do I even remember it? How did I treat people? What did it mean?

I am an achievement junkie.

For the past 15 years of my career, I have been constantly returning to the question, What would it be like to live life from this human place? To notice when the RPMs are too high and take my foot off the gas, just enough to be present. Maybe to idle every hour or two for 2 or 3 or 5 minutes? Sometimes, more?

Moving slower is not easy. We must choose to go against the prevailing winds of an accelerating, technological society, and perhaps more so, the relentless slave driver in our own minds.

Sometimes, redlining is what it takes and it can even feel great. But not all the time. We keep ourselves in a near constant state of dis-ease and fight/flight.

What would it be like to live our lives at human speed?

How would it change our stress levels, our moods, and our levels of fulfillment? How would it benefit our work, our families, all the people around us?

Take a moment right now. Close your computer. Silence your phone. Close your eyes if you like, and take three deep breaths. Drop below machine speed into the human place inside.

How does it feel? What happens from here?