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B. Jeffrey Madoff Headshot

All Hyped Up With Nowhere To Go

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I've been spending time learning how to save time. Time is money and we are all against wasting it. The important distinction between time and money is some people never run out of money, but all people run out of time. Since we all run out of it, there is not really a way to save it, but we keep trying.

One of the major ways we seem to be saving time is how we communicate with each other. Emails are fast, cheap and made letters and telegrams obsolete. However, convenience and speed has its price. Correspondence lost any kind of personality one's handwriting or stationary gave it. The price of speed is conformity.

In the 1990s, as digital communications sped up how we communicate, caffeine consumption sped us up. Starbucks went public in 1992, opening up a new store every weekday.

According to the National Coffee Association, coffee consumption in the U.S. has been going steadily upward since 1993. Although the Starbucks' brand was all about savoring the perfectly brewed cup of coffee from freshly ground beans, they recently began offering their own instant coffee. It was faster. People didn't like waiting for that perfectly brewed cup when what they were really after was the caffeine jolt. Everyone seems to be in a hurry.

People didn't want to wait for coffee or even have to drink a whole cup of it when a 2 ounce "energy shot" would do the trick faster. In 2004, "5 Hour Energy" was the first to market its energy product. There are now over 25 brands of these energy shots whose market doubled from 2007 to 2008. It's the fastest growing segment of the beverage market. As we sped up, so did our method of communication.

During the same period, text messaging took off. Texting, like energy shot usage, more than doubled in volume the past year. In the United States there are 2.5 billion text messages sent each day.

Emails take too long. Phone calls take too long. As we've sped ourselves up with caffeine and rushed to communicate every aspect of our lives, not just to another person, but to as many people as we could, all at once. In 2004, Facebook was launched. It is now the most used social network with over 300 million users worldwide. You didn't have to go any further than your computer to be social. However, that wasn't fast enough.

A variation on texting took us into the real time social networking realm; "Twitter", started in 2006 and as of February, 2009 had the staggering growth rate of 1382% a month. According to Nielsen Research, Twitter is the fastest growing site in the Membership Community category.

We "friend" people on Facebook or "follow" on Twitter, but we actually speak to each other less and less. There are more text messages sent per phone per month, 357, than phone calls, 204. As we've become more interconnected technically, we've become more isolated. The feeling of isolation is a major component of depression.

Some forms of depression are seen by psychologists as an adaptive defense mechanism, something that helps us cope with reality and maintain self image. Signing on to these different networking services can create the delusion of being emotionally and socially connected. Depression has become a major issue in the United States.

Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania, in a study concluded in 2005, found that anti-depressant prescriptions for Prozac, Paxil and others went from 13 million in 1996 to 27 million in 2005. That's ten percent of our population on anti-depressants and those numbers are only moving upwards. Antidepressants are the most prescribed drug in the U.S. and we lead the world in antidepressant use according to the World Health Organization.

Speed has had a tremendous affect on not only how we as individuals communicate, but how the media communicates to us. As internet usage surged, daily newspapers began their Acapulco cliff dive. Why wait for a newspaper when stories are constantly updated on the web and the 24 hour news channels. We've got computers at home, at work and mobile phones to keep us connected in between.

According to Forrester Research, although we are spending more time online, 12 hours a week, we are not spending less time watching television, 13 hours a week. Whatever time we've been saving we've been spending online. The demand is the same, speed. There is a trade-off for speed; good reporting.

Whether it's the birthers, bloggers or a boy in a balloon, what has become most important is being first with the story rather than being accurate. We waste a staggering amount of time on stories that weren't reported accurately or weren't even stories in the first place. The truth is often the first fatality in the media's war for our attention.

As a nation, we've gotten more hyped up on caffeine, technology and media. The majority of our waking time is spent in front of one screen or another instead of with each other. We should look at how much time we are spending all hyped up with nowhere to go.