Speed: in search of lost time | Documentary

Speed: in search of lost time | Documentary

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That's me, Florian Opitz. I always thought that I lived a fairly normal, fulfilled life without any major problems. As a kid, I was a boy scout and later, I became a punk.

I went to college and I found a job that I love, and has taken me around the world. I make documentary films. I have a wonderful girlfriend and a little son, Anton.

So my life's great, theoretically, at least. Over the past few years, I've started to realize that I have one big problem. Anton, can we get going again? Can we move on? Come on. Come, Anton, let's go.

Come on. Come on, we have to go to the kindergarten. Anton, I need to go to work please. I have no time. Try as I might, I never seem to have enough time for everything I want to do. It's always the same.

After every stressful job I swear to myself that I'm going to do things differently from now on. To finally make more time for my family and friends. For going out more, to movies and concerts. But then it doesn't take long for my good intentions to burst like bubbles.

Soon enough, I'm rushing around as harried as ever. As soon as I cross an item off the top of my to-do list, five more appear at the bottom. I must be doing something wrong.

Okay, ready to go. Are you ready? Bye. The only way I seem to experience time nowadays is… there's not enough of it. How come I'm always in such a damn rush? I mean, I'm always trying to be efficient and save time.

My PC, iPhone and super fast internet connection are supposed to help me do this, aren't they? Instead of having more time, I seem to have less and less. My head feels like a pinball machine. I have the feeling that something in my life has spun out of control. It took three life-changing experiences to wake me up and make me realize this.

Four years ago, when I was traveling to Africa to do research for a film, my cameraman, Andy, and I were abducted by the Nigerian Secret Service and brought before a court. We were charged with espionage and faced a sentence of 14 years in prison. Fortunately, we were acquitted, but during the harrowing two months of the trial, I had a lot of time to think about my life. Not quite a year later, my son, Anton, was born.

An incredible experience that apparently wore me out more than it did his mother. Now that Ton is here, my constant rushing seems even more absurd to me. Then my father became very ill. He died a year ago. That really drove it home to me how finite life is, and that I can't keep putting off the important things.

I decided it's time to find the reason for my breathlessness. I want the serenity I once had, back. I want to spend time with my son without constantly glancing at my watch or my iPhone. Maybe I'll even find the answer to that age-old question.

How do we want to live our lives? I'm not the only one with this problem. Through my research, I found out that the pace of life has doubled over the past hundred years. Over half the people in Germany spend more time in front of a computer than with their family and friends. Burnout syndrome is spreading rapidly. I feel sorry for the people in these studies, but I feel like I've caught myself in the act. I'm starting to get the feeling that I also think and function like a computer.

The word leisure no longer exists in my vocabulary. Why is that? I have no idea. So I embark on a quest to find people who can help me figure out what's going on with me. Crap, my train is 20 minutes late. Instinctively, I reach for my phone to tell someone but who, and why? Having to wait is an affront to me, even if I'm not exactly sure who to blame for it. Doing the research for this film, I've come across countless books on time management.

It seems a lot of people have problems similar to mine. Self-help books and DVDs on the subject sell like hotcakes. Perhaps I should also do something to improve my time management skills. Maybe that would solve my problem.

I decided to sign up for a seminar. Not just any seminar, of course, I go for the best. The seminar by Germany's number-one time management guru, Lothar Seiwert.

Because your time is so precious, we have invited Europe's time management expert to pass on his insights to you. A man they call the "time management guru". A man who has set unbelievable records. A man whose books have all become bestsellers.

I'm sure you've all read his book, "More Time for Essentials", and you are familiar with "The Bear Strategy." And, of course, you've all heard of the fabulous title, "Slow Down to Speed Up." If that's not enough to impress you, the next figure will definitely blow you away. This man has sold over five million books.

So, he must be doing something right. Please welcome the one and only, the amazing and charming, Professor, Dr. Lothar Seiwert. The key to successful time management is setting crystal-clear priorities. I would like to emphasize here that it is a grand and widespread delusion, and you all know it, when people claim, "I don't have time." Start with the most important thing first, and let your e-mails be e-mails.

Concentrate on the priorities that are important for your future. You won't have more time, but I can absolutely guarantee you that you'll double your effectiveness by 50 percent. I recommend trying the following mental exercise. Think about the different "life hats" you wear, and ask yourself which of them are really important.

What "hats" do I wear? What functions and jobs, what hobbies and commitments, what different roles do I have in my life? We have to focus on the things that are really important, what I call the "champagne tasks". I'll pour the water in here for now, as it is not that important at the moment. Now I have to activate all my mental powers and focus on the priorities that are really important to me. Of course, I need a magic cloth to help me do that. I'm going to take it and cover this up.

Now I can mentally concentrate on those priorities that are really important for my life and let the small, supposedly "urgent" problems of daily life just go by themselves. Now I need a little female energy, Claudia, can you blow on this for us? Okay, thank you. As you see, once I focus on the really important things, the "urgent" but unimportant things just disappear. Thank you. Separating the important from the unimportant, huh? Thanks for the advice, I knew that already. It's doing it that's the problem.

All right, then, great, have fun reading. There's no simple formula just to make my problem disappear like magic. At home, I often find it hard to live in the moment.

I'm physically present, but my mind is often elsewhere. Could there be a deeper reason for my inner restlessness? I've been hearing stuff all over the place lately about burnout syndrome. Seems a lot of people are coming down with it these days.

Maybe I've contracted a case of it myself. To find out, I've made an appointment with a therapist. The burnout specialist, Dr. Sprenger. So not enough time for what matters but do you know what matters to you? I always thought I did. I always thought it would my family and friends, but somehow I never seem to have enough time for them. Instead, I spend too much time on things that don't get me anywhere.

Let me ask you two questions. When you do spend time with your family and friends, are you enjoying it? Is it quality time? Yes, I think so. I ask this, because one of the typical signs of severe burnout syndrome is that things you'd normally enjoy are no longer perceived as a pleasure.

Instead, they become a burden. Even playing with your kid can be too much. -I haven't reached that point yet. -Okay, that's good. That was my first question.

The second is are you able to say no when people make demands on you? -That's hard for me. -I thought so, that's why I asked. In other words, you're more available to people than necessary. And when you're doing research on the internet, you tend to follow all sorts of links and sort of get lost? -Like that? -You name it, exactly. Okay, I think you're onto something there. What you say tells me that you have trouble staying focused.

And as paradoxical as it may seem, discipline and staying focused are the key to burning burnout. In this day and age, there's too much everything. Too much information, too much food, too many appointments, so we have to be very selective. How can I tell I have a burnout? When you just don't have the energy to carry on. We can distinguish different stages in burnout, as with any disease. Typically, people in the final stage of burnout are physically just unable to go on.

They actually can't make it up the stairs, can't concentrate, can't accomplish anything. Once people have reached that point, the only thing that can help them is generally in-patient treatment. So do you think I have a burnout? I think you have some initial symptoms that could easily lead to full-blown burnout eventually. You're aware that that's a problem. That's why I'd advise you to draw a line and do something. You need to establish limits now, so that you won't burn yourself out.

And he easiest way to do this is to set yourself very strict limits for a while. Certain times when you use your PC and mobile and others when you do not. See what happens, you might have withdrawal symptoms. If you're addicted, it might be hard to stand. You think you're addicted? -I hope not. -Try and see.

No internet and no mobile for a while. Could that be my solution? Alex Ruhle, an editor at the Suddeutsche Zeitung, conducted an experiment on himself and went on a six-month digital fast. What does that feel like? A life outside the digital cloud.

Is it quieter, more focused, more centered? Did the experience induce euphoria or withdrawal symptoms? Hello, this is Alex Ruhle from the Suddeutsche Zeitung. Did he cheat? I go to see Alex in his office on the 19th floor. It's the last day of his experiment. Okay, thanks, bye.

'Write me a quick email…" What gave you the idea for your experiment? There were certain things that got on my nerves so much that I decided I had to change something. It's probably not that unusual but I get 60 mails a day and write 40 or 50 myself. It's an endless flood.

Sure, I can turn it off, but then I worry I might miss an e-mail and check my mailbox every two minutes. If I read the email, I have to reply and then I get a reply to my reply. Then my phone rings. Then I have to read the latest online news.

Then I have to research things on Wikipedia for my article, but the folks at Wikipedia also make mistakes so I have to double-check the facts. Here comes in this US site, the link to a video on Vimeo that I have to watch, of course, and so on. There goes my day.

Then I got myself one of those evil BlackBerry gadgets. That really finished me off. Why? I never had an addiction problem. I never had a lot of anything. I always felt my life wasn't perfect, okay, but at least I wasn't letting some addiction ruin it. Until I got this BlackBerry.

From the first moment, I was totally hooked on the thing. It was totally out of control. If I was with other people when it was off, I'd go to the bathroom to check it because I was embarrassed, but I just had to check that email. It was totally unimportant 90 percent of the time, but I had to check it anyway. What was the first day like? How did it feel to be without Internet and a mobile? Just awful, it almost drove me crazy. I was like a smoker trying to kick the habit.

Usually, you turn on your computer, and your whole life is there. It was an interesting experience to realize that the analog world is being sucked up by the net. Our editorial office is pretty busy, but it took five days before anyone noticed the fax machine wasn't working.

No one sends faxes anymore. These are just dinosaurs, and suddenly I was thrown back to them. Or when I asked people where the nearest phone booth was, they'd say phone booths, do they still exist? Even though you can still see them everywhere.

I could tell you many stories like that. Did any positive or negative feelings arise somewhere along the way? I think it really changed me. I'm not a different person now, but that stupid behavior, my constant nervousness, this compulsion to be informed always up to date, around the clock, constantly checking my emails like a baby sucking on a bottle. Sweet milk to feed my ego. That has somewhat subsided, yes.

At home I got along just fine without it, maybe even better. I'm now able to say I'm going to call it a day. That used to be unthinkable for me.

So what do you think will happen when you finally get the Internet and your cell phone back tomorrow? Will the addiction be back too? I'm curious and kind of scared to find out, I don't know. -Really? -Yes, absolutely. The BlackBerry, I don't ever want it back again. I'm glad I went through with it for six months. It was a great experience.

So you would recommend it to others? Would you recommend it to me, as a potential addict? I'd recommend it to you as a father. Definitely, you should try it. -And the upshot for you? -It was great. It was great, really. But I can't wait to get back online tomorrow.

Going on a digital fast for a while seems to be quite liberating. I'll definitely have to try it out, someday. On the other hand, it's evidently not a cure-all for digital addiction and the constant time squeeze either.

So why the hell am I always so pressed for time? How do I get out of this? My last hope is a philosopher and time researcher, Professor Karl-Heinz Geisler. Forced to move at a slower pace ever since a bout of polio at the age of five, Professor Geisler has been examining our relationship to time and speed for decades. From the sidelines, so to speak. Do you have any advice for me? -Ding dong. -Take your time. That was my light bulb moment.

Let me turn this off. It's not that we're short of time, we just have too much to do. Or at least we think so, since we have so many options. The pace we've arrived at in production, in transportation, in leisure, in entertainment, that pace forces us to make more decisions.

As a result, we're ever more pressed for time. That also has to do with the fact that machines run 24/7 and so does the Internet. Everything is available 24/7, that's why we don't have enough time. It seems to me that everything keeps getting faster, and that people are increasingly suffering from this high speed. Not everything is getting faster.

Natural cycles aren't any faster than they used to be. A week still has seven days, not eight. A year is as long as it ever was. We still have spring, summer, fall and winter.

Some may be shorter, some longer, but the seasons haven't changed much. What has changed are the things we produce and the way we produce them. Because we convert time into money, we have to be faster at earning more money and creating more wealth.

If we want to escape that constant time pressure, we have to make do with less. You don't necessarily end up on the street if you make a bit less money and if you do without certain product or acceleration device. I won't necessarily end up on the street if I don't own a cell phone. Doesn't seem so.

But there will be certain things and pleasures in life I won't have. The question is do I mind or not? Either way, to pass up some opportunities, I can't take all of them. The more options I have, the more I have to pass up. Because I can't live two or three lives in one, I can only live one.

But where does this restlessness come from? Our lives are governed by clocks and machines and we take our cues from them. Life according to the clock and machines is life to a set beat. And "beat" means repetition without variation, always adhering to the same steady sequence. But our natural lives as creatures of nature, should follow a rhythm. And "rhythm" means repetition with variation.

That means every day is the same length but a bit different as to content and quality. It's important that we let the rhythm guide our lives. If we only live to a set beat, we'll become machines. Perform 24 hours a day, seven days a week, like well-oiled machines.

Is that really what we want? Is that what I want? Sounds like a nightmare to me. I start to realize that neither therapy nor an experiment in digital fasting will help me and certainly not a time management seminar. We can't blame everything on the internet either. I'm not the only one with this problem.

Our entire society is hooked on speed, so enough navel-gazing. If I want to get a grip on my predicament, I have to find out why our society ticks the way it does. Where does this need for speed come from? Who's running this rat race? What happens to all the time we save through our ever-more sophisticated technology? To find out, I'm going to take a closer look at the world of the accelerators. If anyone knows about acceleration, it has to be Dr. Antonella Mei-Pochtler. Or at least that's the reputation that precedes her.

She works for the Boston Consulting Group and was recently named one of the top 20 business consultants in the world. It took almost a year and dozens of phone calls with her secretary before Dr. Mei-Pochtler could make time to see me for a few minutes. During the half-hour ride from the airport to her next appointment.

Why is it so important to constantly increase speed? Because in the world of business, it's all about coming out on top of the competition. The whole dynamic of competition has to do with establishing your position relative to others in the food chain. Being faster generally results in a competitive advantage. The early bird gets the worm, as they say. So speed is extremely important.

Even more crucial than lean management. We call that "time-based competition." In a nutshell, we help our clients to get things done faster and solve problems more quickly. So speed is very important and as business consultants, we act as accelerators. So the fast eat the slow, but with what consequences? If I'm not mistaken we need to make appointments anyway. We have to see when they're available, we need to focus on Paris.

Okay, great. Increasing speed and efficiency often means automation, people losing their jobs. Does that bother you sometimes? Yes, absolutely, I mean, of course, boosting efficiency frequently involves the loss of jobs or relocation of jobs, unfortunately. That's a fact that can't be denied. And that certainly is an issue that weighs heavily on some consultants' minds. Then again, you have to keep in mind that generally speaking, companies aren't out to cut costs or increase productivity just for the sake of cutting costs and jobs.

You do it to create possibilities for growth in other areas. Why did you decide to become a business consultant? I guess the reason I chose to be a consultant is that I've always had this deep-seated urge to make the world a better place. You could say that consulting is a minimally invasive way of making the world a better place.

Speeding things up to make the world a better place, interesting idea. I'd love to have heard more about this better world, but unfortunately, we're out of time and I'm not allowed inside to meet her clients. I figured out this much, at least. In the world of business, constant acceleration is the name of the game.

Nothing works without it. But what does all this have to do with me? There is no doubt about the fact that the economy is a major factor in the acceleration game. Not just in an abstract sense, but in a very real way.

I think it's not only capitalism and the economy that are driving us. It's the logic of competition itself. The fact that we allocate everything, goods, jobs, status, privileges, friends, according to the logic of competition. That's the prime mover of our society. And that scares people as they live in the constant fear of being left behind.

There are two trends right now. On the one hand, you have people who are catapulted out of the system and decelerated by force because they can't find work and have to subsist on welfare or whatever: People with lots of time on their hands who have been"decommissioned." And others who work themselves to death and are under an almost endless time pressure. Some people say the constant pressure to be fast is a problem of the elite. I find that claim outrageous. Just watch a supermarket cashier doing their job and you'll see what immense time pressure they're under.

Time is money. I'm beginning to realize how much truth there is in that hackneyed old saying. The next station is Canary Wharf.

Economic and competitive forces are driving our world to spin ever faster and leaving many of us ever more pressed for time. But of course, it only works because we all play along. I'm curious to know what pace we've actually arrived at and how much faster we can actually go. We're in London's new financial district, one of the major nerve centers of international finance. Incredible sums of money change hands every day. My destination is the headquarters of Reuters, where the boundaries of what's temporarily possible are constantly being pushed to their limits.

I always thought Reuters was a news agency until I learned that the company actually derives 95 percent of its income from providing information and news to the financial industry. At lightning speed, staggering amounts of data are fed into a vast information system here every day. Speed has become more critical to our business, and that mirrors the development of the industries that we serve. With the advent of electronic dealing systems that can respond in seconds or microseconds to a piece of information, with the advent sometime back now of 24-hour news channels of news on the web, there's an insatiable demand for news and information at any hour of the day and night, and then also in real-time. Often we will be measured by our clients in our performance in that kind of scale.

Pay for access to Reuters real-time world and you can pull money out of or pump it into markets all over the world in the same instance. Alan Mathews is a product manager at Reuters and explains how it works. I'm showing you now a product from Reuters called 3,000 Extra, which gives you real-time news, equities prices from around the world. For instance, here on the left-hand side, we've got foreign exchange prices from around the world.

This column here on the right indicates all the different locations. New York, Hong Kong, London and every jump indicates an update. We say news moves the markets. This panel down here shows you a selection of news stories as they're coming in.

Traders obviously can't make a judgment on all of those, but our editors will try and highlight the most important stories with a red headline, so the trader can immediately read that and make a split-second judgment about whether he wants to trade on the back of that story or not. Why is it so important for the customers to have the information at such high speed? Because they can profit from it, simple as that. It's their ability to trade on the data and trade profitably. They trade in such large numbers, millions of dollars, that they can, although the margins on any particular trade are very small because they trade in large numbers, the profit margins are enough to make the trades profitable and they have to trade constantly throughout the day as well to make the profits they need to be able to afford all these electronic systems that are distributing prices around the world.

Running a bank is a very expensive business nowadays with all this electronic data flying around. Sounds like the finance world has managed to make the whole planet spin faster. Time is simply carved into ever-thinner slices. Rather than once a day, money can now be moved back and forth hundreds of times a second, generating a profit each time. The faster the wheel turns, the more profit can be made from it.

That's the secret. The whole business is about speed and time. If the news wasn't critical to the traders, they wouldn't pay for it. It's all about delivering the news faster than anybody else, or the information faster than anybody else, so the traders can make those instantaneous decisions. They will follow all day on the screen and then going home, they'll watch the prices on their BlackBerry.

Then perhaps when they get home, they'll turn on to a screen at home and look at prices again. -Really? -Yes, some of the guys are addicted. That's for sure. So they have this information system on the BlackBerry as well? Well, they'll have a portion of it but then they'll have this same system at home so they can keep up to date.

It's crazy. I'm not sure if it's crazy, but it's profitable anyway. Just as I'm wrapping my head around that, Matthews tells me that much of what he's explained is already out of date. Things are already moving even faster. If you think about how quickly the eye can detect change on a screen depending on who you listen to, it's about a third of a second.

So if you have 1,000 trades on an underlying security like Deutsche Telekom trade 1,000 times a second, you cannot observe all of those price changes within that one-second period. The need to automate your systems to be able to take advantage of price movements, you have to do that through the use of computer systems. Some leading investment banks claim as much as 90 percent of the business they trade is done through automated systems, often called black box engines or algorithmic engines. Customers literally are looking at microseconds performance. When you think a microsecond is a millionth of a second, that's a very small time continuum.

We also have some artificial intelligence software that actually interprets the news events as they are generated to work out whether the sentiment of that news event is underlying to buy, to hold or to sell that stock. These are dimensions that simply boggle my mind. Slowly, I'm realizing that we humans no longer set the pace.

Technology does. We've simply become too slow for what is technologically possible nowadays. That's why we're regrettably being eliminated.

The world's already running on autopilot. Why do you think people's appetite for speed is so big? Perhaps that's just human nature. We create these technologies. We feel on the bound to exploit them.

So, we do. We use technology because it's available, it's as simple as that. The only problem is somehow nobody thought to add any breaks. Have we created a system that operates at a pace too fast to steer? And does anyone even know where it's all headed? When it comes to technology, there is no speed limit but what about us? It's tough to say that the limits are as to how fast we can perform.

People have always believed they are already operating at those limits. That's how it's been for 200 years, when the advent of the new technology like rail travel, caused an uproar among cultural pessimists and scientists who claimed we couldn't push the limits any further. Numerous publications, even scientific ones, suggested that the human body and brain couldn't handle speeds of more than 30 kilometers an hour.

And people believed it, as looking out from a train really made then sick. I think these limits are somehow flexible and extendable. Yet, there are limits to what our bodies can do.

Some brain functions have a set pace and our bodies have their own biorhythms. We can't really tweak them. We feel that we've reached these limits when we're dead-tired or jet-lagged. Jet lag, exhaustion, information overload. I know only too well what it's like to push yourself to the edge. Yet a part of me secretly wishes I could tweak things a little.

After all, I don't want to burn out. I'd rather find a way to keep going. From there, it's just a fine line and often we've crossed it already, saying okay, let's intervene with chemicals or pharmaceutical substances of all kinds to enhance our performance and also our speed.

If one day we'll be able to, and there's no reason to doubt that we will, enhance ourselves by means of technical or genetic engineering or fusion of the two, we'll definitely do so. It always follows the same logic. Once a few people do it, the rest is forced to follow.

The fusion of the genetics and computer engineering in our bodies may well be the only chance for our human bodies to keep up with the pace we set ourselves in society. I think we're created a self-perpetuating system: Technical innovations not only speed up processes but they also fuel social changes. The advent of the Internet both sped up things, and brought new things with it. So technical innovations geared towards speeding things up do also drive social change. This, in turn, makes us think we need to go faster to match the new pace.

We feel we don't have enough time, so we ask for technical acceleration. If I feel like I have so much to do and so little time, I want my computer to boot faster, the train to run faster, the cashier to hurry up and so on. That's when we ask for technical acceleration. We have thus created a self-perpetuating system with practically no means to intervene. It's a vicious circle geared to non-stop acceleration.

I think the logic of acceleration of the modern society, is so deeply rooted in the culture of our social system that it's hard to imagine how to get over it. It's the mercilessness of this game I find deeply disturbing. It's like a cancer that runs rampant and keeps growing until it has destroyed its host.

What a colossal mess. We seem to have created a self-perpetuating system fueled by cutthroat competition and greed for profits. Everyone acts as if it's a law of nature for us to keep increasing the pace as if there's no way of breaking the chain. And this, despite the fact that it's bound to burn us out and even make us superfluous in the long run and will ultimately destroy our planet. Not a very promising outlook, if you ask me. We should not ask how much speed we can bear.

After all, we can imagine a world without people. In fact, it's come to that in many fields where processes can be run at the speed of light, and everything is great. But the question shouldn't be how fast can we possibly get to? The question should be what speed makes for good living? What is a good pace and what does it look like? The good life. I'm on my way to Switzerland, to visit a man who lived life in the fast lane for many years. He rose up the career ladder with remarkable speed until one day, he pulled the emergency brake and decided to chuck it all in. Now, Rudolf Watzl is building a new life for himself and is trying to find happiness.

So what exactly do you do here? I peel potatoes, chop wood, mostly preparatory stuff. Eventually, I'm learning how to run a mountain lodge. I'll continue training the entire summer. Next year, my girlfriend and I plan to lodge ourselves, take on more responsibilities and attend to guests.

What made you want to do this sort of thing? There are those rare friends who let you know when you mutate into an asshole. Luckily, I still had a few of them, but you sense it yourself, if you're honest with yourself. It may not be a conscious choice but the result of the daily grind.

Time pressure keeps you from listening to the need of others. You are just extremely focused on yourself. That gets worse and worse until you think the world revolves around you.

I just didn't like that anymore. Wow. Rudy had a storybook career. After getting his degree, he found employment with a large consultancy firm and then at the Deutsche Bank. From there, he moved on to a senior management position at the investment bank, Lehman Brothers. During all those years, he worked in acquisitions.

Rudy used to be what is known as a corporate raider. How did you end up at Lehman Brothers? I joined them at a time when the economy was booming. The investment banking world was at the top of its game. The business was a bit like a cutthroat war in which the investment bankers were the mercenaries and the banks were the warlords.

The mercenaries served the warlords who offered the best pay. So I switched from the Deutsche Bank to Lehman Brothers. I soon realized that American investment banks are even more driven by the principle of greed. It's all about getting bonuses and accumulating wealth. During all initial talks I had with senior executives and management, I thought they'd tell me how interesting my job would be, what challenges it would have, but they just reiterated one point. "You can become filthy rich if you decide to work with us."

You create a parallel universe for yourself. In this parallel universe, you try to justify your behavior. It's a universe in which you're sealed off and live in the neighborhoods with people just like you. You're driving through working-class neighborhoods, but you don't set foot there.

I think that's the point. You don't set foot in places where you might get a chance to experience a taste of real life. What was life like right before you quit? My enthusiasm rapidly died down. The cons definitely outweighed the pros.

I'd say that during the last two or three years, I had pneumonia over a year. I constantly caught cold, had a low immunity. I had mononucleosis and borreliosis, you name it. I'd wake up in the middle of the night, like at 3:00 AM, and my heart would be racing. I'd get panic attacks, I had no idea what was wrong.

I'd get dressed and take a walk for half an hour to calm down. I felt this sense of helplessness. Even the simplest things on my agenda for the next day, be it writing a letter, getting gas or changing a tire, all seemed like overwhelming undertakings. My body began to feel like an enemy because it wouldn't do what I wanted it to do.

So a general sense of malaise and distress gradually began to build in me. The feeling got to be so extreme that one day I said I've got to get out of here. Rudy says fear of losing everything made him hesitant to leave his job at first, but finally, he plucked up the courage and quit. He wasn't sure if it'd be a temporary change or something more permanent, but he had an ambitious plan.

He wanted to cross the Alps, all the way from Salzburg to Nice. A 1,800-kilometer trek on his own with just a backpack and his own two feet. Did you ever had any doubts about what you set out to do? I was afraid I wouldn't make it physically. I was a bit naive about it at first. I was a banker with a beer belly and 30 pounds heavier than I am now.

I hadn't done any training, I hadn't broken in my equipment. I just set off. I got caught in a thunderstorm right at the outset and had far much stuff with me. The most critical point came after two or three days. I nearly called the whole thing off. After that, I started to easing into it.

I got in tune with my body and found what I could demand of it. Any doubts I might have had before disappeared after that. Has your attitude towards time changed? When your life is about efficiency and productivity, you block out anything that could sidetrack you or deter you from your path. Reading is a good example. I actually had to relearn how to read a book.

As an executive, you're trained to zero in on the essentials. It's what they call " executive reading." You skim over a page in ten seconds. You scan the page and pick the main facts.

You miss a lot that way., the beauty of the language. I had to force myself to read at a relaxed pace, one page at a time. That's just one example. But it illustrates how much more of life I experience now. Finally, I feel like I'm living in the here and now.

I no longer live for the future and put everything off till tomorrow. An attitude that totally devalues the present. The way I live now, I appreciate the present so much more. All that makes me happy. More conscious and happy.

After hiking for half a year, Rudy had reached his goal and arrived in Nice. The former banker and longtime workaholic managed to find a way out of the rat race. Compared to me, he's quite laid-back and very much at ease. He seems to have settled well into his new life.

I wonder if maybe I should drop out too, and quit filmmaking. But then again, Rudy can afford to be relaxed about dropping out. He doesn't have to take part in the rat race anymore. After all, he collected enough bonuses during his career.

He is set for life. What about those of us who haven't got it made? Can we live the good life too? And if so, how? Fritz Badsley didn't have to start a new life to rediscover the rhythm of nature. He's had it all his life. It's mid-June, time for the cattle drive. Each year when the mountain snows have thawed, the Badsleys take their cattle up to the alpine pastures.

I wonder if time really does move at a different pace for these mountain farmers. Schnapps at eight in the morning. [German spoken audio] Some of the Badsleys spend summers on the Alp. That's the way it's always been and that's the way it still is today. -You enjoy being a farmer? -Very much. I'm very much lucky to have a wonderful wife.

She loves it and put her whole life into it too. So does the rest of the family, it's great, very motivating. You also enjoy it? Yes, I have a passion for it, absolutely. Despite of all the troubles, I wouldn't want to do anything else. Why? In spite of everything, you have a lot of freedom.

We don't have the kind of extreme time pressure that you have in many other jobs. But people create a lot of that themselves. Well, cows do require a fixed schedule too.

You have to milk them morning and evening, every day. I can't take off to the beach for ten days when I feel like it. We've never been to the ocean together. Nico, let's go milk the cows. You can help me. Come, let's go say hi to Valentina. Come on.

Yes, come here, Valentina. Come here. We're very lucky.

Three generations being able to work together. You don't have to work very often. On farms you do, yes, but where else? You have to be an idealist to work the way we do here. You have to love the work, or else forget it.

Anyone doing it just for the money would have quit long ago. Do you have a watch? Actually, I haven't worn a watch since I graduated from school. No. But if I buy a new watch, I wear it two days and then it stops running. I don't know why. Here, we hear the church bell ringing.

You can tell the time by that. You get a pretty good feeling for it being up here and looking at the sun. You learn to get within half an hour of the precise time. Spending time with the Badsleys gets me thinking maybe this would be the right life for me. Then again, without any mobile phone reception up here. Mind you, it is quite relaxing.

For the first time on my trip, I feel something like peace of mind. Must be the mountain air. I can already see myself making cheese. Cheese takes time, as Fritz Senior says. First, it has to be produced slowly.

Then it has to be turned regularly for months and then aged for a long time. This is a 100 percent natural product. That's what makes it special. That's why it's much better than fast-produced cheeses. There they add all sorts of chemicals to speed up the process so that it's ready to eat in three months.

How many hours of work go into one cheese? Hard to say. -You never thought about it? -Not really. I never really thought about how much time I put into it.

If you really added up the hours, the price is certainly much too low, absolutely. By the time I wake up the next morning, Erica and Fritz have been up for hours getting the hay in. Their workday begins around 5:00 morning and ends at 8:00 or 9:00 in the evening. This isn't exactly how I imagined life in the slow lane. Here we go. Easy! Easy! It's very demanding physically.

Sometimes I can't tell until people come to visit us who try to help with something and just can't do it. Only then I realize that it actually is hard physical labor. But it's not like I envy others and think I wish I had it so good, or I'd rather go swimming now than prepare hay.

That doesn't bother me, fortunately. It doesn't bother me at all. In fact, I don't give a shit about it. Luckily.

Working long, hard hours doesn't bother the Badsleys because they decide themselves how to spend their time. I wonder if that might be the key to the good life. Being the master of your own time. They don't live on a lonely island. Market forces and price pressures have made inroads into their lives as well.

Do you worry about the future? No, I don't worry. Worrying makes you sick, I'm totally convinced of that. I don't worry, really. I don't think that far ahead. I take things as they come, one day at a time. One day we'll count ourselves lucky to have something to eat.

You can chew computer cables all day, you'll still be hungry. Maybe in ten or 20 years, we'll be like Indians smoking the peace pipe sitting here on the porch and talking with you guys. Maybe that will be our fate living on the handouts from the state. I don't know. The Badsley have found their version of the good life and they fight for it.

I envy them for that. But retreating from the world and making cheese, I don't know. Besides, we can't all live in the Alps and make cheese.

As beautiful as it is up here, there must be some viable alternative to our system of constant acceleration that would allow the Badsley's lifestyle to be more than just a thing of the past. So are you going or not? At least the cows are easier to figure out. That's it, good girl.

Back in Berlin, I read about a pretty radical deceleration project in South America that piqued my curiosity. It sounds just like what I've been looking for. I set out for the other end of the world.

Southern Chile, 42 degrees in 20 minutes of southern latitude, the Patagonian wilderness. I want to visit a project initiated by a man who has dedicated his life to deceleration. In his first life, Douglas Tompkins was a successful businessman. Decades ago, he co-founded two clothing companies that earned him a fortune, The North Face and Esprit. Until one day, he began to doubt the meaningfulness of what he was doing.

He sold his shares and moved to Patagonia. Tompkins used his money to purchase land. A lot of land, but not for himself. Tompkins and I fly over the vast swath of land he bought bit by bit over the past 20 years and has made into a nature reserve called Pumalin Park. All the land from here to the horizon belongs to Tompkins and his wife. They're planning to donate it to the Chilean state for the creation of a national park.

Vast portions of land will thereby be forever decelerated. It's a race against time. The aim is to protect pristine wilderness from corporate greed and have the ravaged land painstakingly restored to its natural state.

Well, first of all, quality of life in the fast lane is not good. The high-tech, high-accelerated fast-lane lifestyle is a road to nowhere. It's dead on arrival.

We'd like to put the brakes on the train and slow down and get our bearings and get ourselves back in a relationship with nature. For the meantime, you still need these machines to decelerate the country. You have to rely on the machines. It seems contradictory.

In some ways, we understand there are contradictions in that, but we're living within a system where we're trying to make transitions. We have to make a cultural transition where we start thinking about a future that doesn't have these kinds of machines. That machine in the future, goodbye, Caterpillar.

They were all nice people, they're all well-intended. They all worked hard but Caterpillar machines are destroying the world. One of these little devices here that you guys are recording or this little camera. Imagine what it takes to produce one of these cameras.

In terms of its ecological footprint, you have to have the entire techno-industrial complex, the whole enchilada, to make one of these bloody little things. Destroying the world. I got one. I'm hoping that I can vote one day that we can get rid of all of them. That's the problem, that's the base problem. Meanwhile, we're trying to make a little office here to run this park, to get people to come out to see nature and to value national parks so that more national parks will be made and more will be protected.

There'll be more habitat, there'll be more biodiversity. The Earth can get back in balance. That's the logic, step by step, in the most simplified way.

What do you think? Tompkins' deceleration program isn't just limited to founding national parks though. He also runs several farms where he experiments with various approaches to real, sustainable and slow farming. Like working without machinery. Aside from that, he wants to bring back the primeval forest.

Here we are growing trees that we hope will stand tall a thousand years from now. This is what we call Project Alerce 3,000. These trees grow to 4,000 years old. In 1,000 years, they'll be really beautiful forests. Then they continue to live for long afterward. In 200 years, it'll get to its full height.

After that, it will branch out more. Then it enjoys itself for several thousand years. We have 17, 18 species of trees which are all native trees here. These species, the native species, are more difficult. What they did was, they went for acceleration, for fast-growing trees like industrial agriculture. They introduced new species into the ecosystem and they plant them out like soldiers.

These are looking like soldiers here themselves. What we have is human cleverness, like making those soldiers and so forth that are all lined up in a row in monocultures so that the machine can work. It's a love of the straight line. They like straight lines since you can go fast. Everything can go fast. This is in order to make money fast.

It's based on the idea of making money fast, which all of these schemes are making money fast. What we're trying to do is just the opposite. We use nature as our guide and not the machine. We're subverting this. We're subversive. At the same time, you're a very sped-up person.

Well, I'm speeding up the subversiveness. Tompkins is a guy that can laugh at himself and his weaknesses. I like that. I'm somehow impressed by his crazy deceleration mission, even if it's a road I could never afford to take. Never mind, he could just as easily have collected yachts or stocks, but he didn't.

Maybe that's just the thing. Everybody has to find their own way. I find this to be the heart and soul of the problem. I mean, the whole business of acceleration turns around technology.

See. How would you say that? This is a weapon of mass destruction, the computer. Its mass destruction is destroying the ecosphere because it accelerates economic activity.

Today, we have 500 percent increase in economic activity over the last 25 years, something like this. Some extraordinarily increasing. What does that mean? Less fish in the ocean, soils are more degraded. Forest cover is reduced, water is contaminated and scarce. The climate has changed.

Those five elements right there, tell us that we couldn't have done that that fast and to that degree if we didn't have this thing, you see. Will Tompkins' radical approach to deceleration really be the only way to get ourselves and our planet back onto a slower, less self-destructive course. There must be an idea out there somewhere that can make the speed of life bearable for humans and the environment without bringing the whole world to a total standstill.

Or is the good life I'm looking for just a pipe dream? I really don't understand why we think that it couldn't be different. A look at the history of the world and of humankind shows that there are countless different ways to organize societies. The economy is always just one element of any social arrangement. Other aspects, like religious and political ideas, traditions, and group or class affiliations, are just as important. The fact that we believe that our modern, Western capitalist system is the only alternative is a mystery to me.

Why have we become so unimaginative regarding utopia ideas? And where alternatives come from. I don't want to give up hope just yet. I'm on my way to a tiny country tucked away in a remote corner of the Himalayas, sandwiched between two giant neighbors, India and China. Until just a few decades ago, Bhutan was almost completely cut off from the rest of the world. For centuries, the only way to reach the country was on foot on the back of a mule. Time here stood still.

Bhutan is the only country with a constitution that places the well-being of its people above economic growth. In the land of the Thunder Dragon, Gross National Happiness is the official policy objective. Gross National Happiness. Sounds suspiciously like gushy North Korean propaganda or some inane advertising slogan. But I wonder if there might be something to it. I have an appointment to see Karma Tshiteem.

He's Bhutan's minister for Gross National Happiness. Gross National Happiness is an approach to development where we view time as life and not time as money. I think that's very different, the paradigm itself is quite different.

Obviously, GDP is very important, income is very important, but we saw that there are many other things that Bhutanese also value. In urbanized centers around the world, life is much faster. People have to work longer. They have to work harder. I guess it just comes from that single-minded fixation on making sure the economy grows faster and faster without considering about the other aspects of life.

The Bhutanese pace of life is much slower. In many ways, I would say that Gross National Happiness is about finding a direction, content and pace to development that is comfortable to the Bhutanese people. Today, if you travel around Bhutan, you will see, in fact, if you go to the villages, it will be very pronounced the pace of life is much slower and maybe that makes for much happier living conditions. Happiness as policy objective. Sounds good, but how's it supposed to work? What exactly does Gross National Happiness look like? I want to see this for myself. Welcome to the session of the Coosa Scoop from Soup on this glorious Saturday afternoon.

To introduce myself, this is Johnny Bravo on Scoop. That's the voice of Johnny Bravo. Of course, as always on this show, you have Soup. Here we're on the scoop from Soup at the Bhutanese perspective.

This week, we're going to focus specifically or most especially on Gross National Happiness, the concept everybody is talking about abroad. -It's selling hotcakes. -Yes, abroad as well as here. We're going to be taking calls too, you know our number, our number is 199.

Time right now in the studio is 4:33 PM. If you have opinions, if you have questions to express on this concept, Gross National Happiness, do call us. We are ready to take your calls anytime between here and 5:30. On the drive through Bhutan, I notice a remarkable, unspoiled countryside. Supposedly, the Bhutanese plant two trees for each one they fell here. Maintaining forests on 60 percent of the land and national parks on 20 percent is an aim enshrined in the nation's constitution.

Protecting the ecosystem is an important part of Gross National Happiness. Also regarded as vital to happiness is preserving cultural traditions. Such as archery, Bhutan's national sport.

So are the people here really happier than we are? It seems so. Whomever I ask, they all say that they're satisfied with their lives. The way they see it. Credit for that is due to their former king, who invented the concept of Gross National Happiness.

A few years ago, he voluntarily gave up much of his power and declared Bhutan a democracy. Could Gross National Happiness possibly work for the rest of us too? You know Bhutan's rank in happiness according to their happiness index? -Yes. -All right. Let's compare. -All right. -You first. No, go ahead, let me see what you have.

As for the GDP ranking, Bhutan is 137th. There's also a human development rating which is like Bhutan stands 135th. Well, for happiness index, Bhutan is like 13th. All right, now the fact is that Bhutan is the only country from the top 20 happiest countries that has a very low GDP.

All right. I think we are getting calls. -All right, let's take it. -Let's take that call. -Hello? -Hello? -Who's calling? -Jimmy.

Jimmy, you probably have a question or a comment. What is it that you have for us? I just wanted to ask you, what would you say? Equate or calculate happiness? Exactly, how do you measure happiness since I am haunted by this question. Every time I go out and as a Bhutanese, they're like okay, you're from Bhutan. GNH, nice philosophy, how do you measure it? Good question. How do you measure happiness and how does it all fit together? Poor and happy.

I hope Dasho Karma Ura can shed light on this question. He's Bhutan's leading intellectual. On behalf of the government, he spent decades researching what makes the Bhutanese happy and how happiness can be measured. So what's the secret of Bhutan's happiness? If you ask me whether government can provide happiness directly, no.

Happiness is not a substance like marijuana that is distributed to individuals. In any case, there is no humanity in that approach because then you have treated individuals as happiness machines and kept them on some kind of short leash from the government. That is not the idea. The idea of happiness, when people become most happy, when they realize their potential to the fullest degree.

If you make other structures of society right, money is not important. There is no question that livelihood in terms of food, housing, clothing, education, health must be met. There is no question about that.

But it is the way you organize your economy and society that makes meeting these needs expensive or manageable. In our country, health and education are completely public undertakings. The government provides them free.

Happiness as the top government objective. Sounds reasonable, but actually, it's quite revolutionary. Karma Ura identified nine aspects as central to life satisfaction.

They include living standards, health and education, an intact community and environment, cultural values and psychological well-being. What is especially important to the Bhutanese, however, is the time they have at their disposal. Anyway, you and I have the freedom to at least move in that direction of happiness all the time. How do you do it? One way is definitely to seize control of your time so that you do things which you value. I arrive in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, 2,600 meters above sea level, 70,000 inhabitants and not a single traffic light. Gross National Happiness notwithstanding, Bhutan is becoming more like normal countries every day.

Meanwhile, there are 20,000 cars clogging Thimphu's few streets, and in Bhutan nowadays too, there's poverty, unemployment and rural depopulation. The modern era may have arrived late here, but now it's coming on strong. Does Gross National Happiness work under these conditions? I asked the chief editor of the Independent Weekly Bhutan Times. It does because our government is trying to give jobs to people who are jobless and our people are concerned about their culture and tradition. They are concerned about the environment.

People are basically the beneficiaries of whatever happened in this country. That's why I think the government was always concerned about people's welfare. Landless people are being given land even right now. As we globalize more, as we interact more with our neighbors, I think that's where the tricky part of GNH comes in.

How do we keep that quintessential Bhutanese in us? -Everything's not perfect. -Everything's not perfect. Bhutan's not perfect, the world is not perfect. But what is happiness? It's a state of perfection more or less, I suppose, but it's up to us to choose it in the way that we feel is most meaningful, right? Best of luck for our government and our academicians out there. Best of luck to the world to try and make some sense out of Gross National Happiness in their own way. -Best of luck to me. -Best of luck to me.

Everyone has a right to pursue happiness. All the best in pursuing it and I hope you enjoyed this show. This was Coosa Scoop with Soup and it's me, Johnny Bravo here at Time Net Studios, 5:34 PM. Everyone here knows that things are not perfect.

Nevertheless, people in Bhutan really want to find their own road into the future. What about closer to home? What would such a path look like for us? There must be some ideas floating around on alternatives to high-speed capitalism. Some utopia, some way out of the rat race. One idea that's gaining more support from people of all political persuasions is an unconditional basic income for all citizens.

What would that mean? All citizens, regardless of their age, whether they were millionaires or homeless would receive an income from the state ensuring a decent standard of living with nothing expected in return. People would no longer be forced into the rat race just to make ends meet. Could that help us get over our speed craze? I definitely think it would be worth trying because it annuls a crucial element of the accelerated society. It targets the prominence of competition in our society where the principle of competition is applied to all spheres of life.

2023-05-14 01:25

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