Fast Company

Time Travels

Report from the Futurist

Futurist

Peter Cochrane, 52, head of research for British Telecom Laboratories, Martlesham Heath, England; author of "Tips for Time Travelers: Visionary Insights into New Technology, Life, and the Future on the Edge of Technology" (McGraw-Hill, 1999).

Scenario

"Digital technologies, mobile telephony, and universal connectivity mean that we work and live at almost the speed of light. The consequences of this metaphorical 'time travel' are tangible. The most obvious effect is on productivity: We are all producing more, and we're producing it faster. A generation ago, the average person had a 100,000-hour working life -- 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, for 50 years. Today we can do everything that person did in 10,000 hours. In the next generation, people will be able to do it in 1,000 hours."

So What?

"We're addicted to speed. Consumers pay a lot of money to save a little time. 'Speed' has become the reigning corporate mantra as well. One danger is that processes, attitudes, and people will get left behind. So we need to be able to operate in 'parallel time' -- to perform multiple tasks at the same time. My recommendation: Be prepared to unlearn everything and to start over again."

Futurology Decoder Key

"The immutability of time, in a world where almost everything else is subject to manipulation, gives it significance. It is our most precious commodity -- and the ability to optimize it may become our highest priority. We will seek out life-prolonging medical advances. We'll extend our lives by making them fuller -- feeling more, learning more, experiencing more. But there's no such thing as free time."

You can learn more about Peter Cochrane on the Web (www.labs.bt.com/people/cochrap).

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