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The Year of Results

Although modernity is often described in terms of acceleration, the pandemic has made plain that we are all subject to the same forms of anxious waiting that our ancestors experienced. and this points to a potential source of the solidarity we will need in the coming years.

CAMBRIDGE – We are waiting for a result – again. One of our loved ones, a little boy, may have caught it at school. We’ll have the results by tonight, supposedly, but who knows? Perhaps they’re up already? Why is the screen so slow to refresh? Could the delay mean something? Is it possible that they are giving us a moment to catch our breath before hitting us with the news? Nothing yet. Wait, how come the screen got refreshed?

In Charlie Chaplin’s wonderful film Modern Times, the defining image of modernity is time sped up. Fast machines drive faster lives in his dystopian vision. And yet it is hard to imagine time moving fast for someone in a tollbooth watching cars whizz by, or in a print shop watching the high-speed printer spit out thousands of pages.

It is not machines, it seems to us, but predictable milestones that make time fly – the 12:30 lunch, the 3:00 coffee, the 5:00 commute home, the weekend shopping, the afternoon soccer game, the upcoming school vacation, the annual trip to see the family. Life in the old days felt slow because there was always a wait – for the rains to save the crop, for the wars to stop, for the womb to conceive, for the pests to recede.