The Great Acceleration: A Review

As life gets faster and faster Melissa Lawford pauses to take a look at the The Great Acceleration by Robert Colvile.

Pedestrians worldwide walk 10% faster than they did in the 1990s. We check our emails 30 or 40 times an hour and the knowledge that we have an unread message in our inbox can affect our performance by 10 IQ points. The financial sector is dominated by High Frequency Trading systems that move so quickly, in 2003, a US trading firm went bust in 16 seconds when an algorithm was switched on by mistake – and it would happen quicker now: in line with Moore’s Law, the speed of a microchip doubles every two years.

            The world is getting faster and we are changing as a result. The Great Acceleration by Robert Colvile is an account of our lives that is terrifying and inspiring, and rings completely true.

            I hadn’t read non-fiction for pleasure since I came out the other side of my animal phase, aged 10, and as a Lit student I am generally disinclined towards hard data, but I found Colvile’s book more addictive than the internet. He brings incredible insight to the modern-day issues simmering on the edge of our consciousness.  The wealth of case studies, psychological experiments, statistics and academia that he uses as evidence is a refreshing contrast to the mire of “facts” we trawl through every day in the media. He explains the self-evident shifts around us with a remarkable clarity, and with a pace that matches the book’s title.

            The Great Acceleration brings specialist knowledge to ideas that we are already aware of - how connectivity affects mental health, how social media is turning politics into a stagnant pressure cooker – but it also made me realise how much I don’t know about developing technology. Will linear type be replaced by a program that sprays words at your eyes, discounting the eye movement that accounts for 80% of reading time?  The Great Acceleration combines the sobering with the astonishing and Colvile gives a balanced, clear-cut analysis of the new pros and cons of change. If books are food for thought, this is a banquet – just one that must be consumed at speed.

Author: Melissa Lawford

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