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Michele Willens Headshot

FACE IT: Fast Ain't Necessarily Better

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I was recently invited to be part of a "speed pitching" evening in which aspiring playwrights had one minute to pitch our theatrical idea to a room full of rotating producers. He or she then had one minute to ask what they thought were significant questions. ("What is the marketable line here?" "Who is the audience?") I was exhausted and whiplashed halfway through, and I had to wonder how the medium's greats would have fared at this exercise. ("Well, it's about this salesman and a son who doesn't live up to his expectations..." "It's about this spinster and her lame daughter and this gentleman comes calling...") Can anything sound that good in 60 seconds?

A friend recently extolled the virtues of a new salon she had discovered. "In and out in twenty minutes!" was the key recommendation. The long list of short things goes on. I was invited to a friend's house for a seminar and training session on "mastering the art of the three minute meditation." We all know about speed dating, and this week I read about Me So Far, a monthly event in Chicago wherein each participant has six minutes to give a power point presentation about themselves before 74 other lonely hearts. Just thinking about this makes me want to take a cat nap.

Now, I realize there is absolutely nothing new about the short attention span of our times. And I am not immune. For example, I am as thrilled as the next theatergoer when I learn there is no Intermission. On the other hand, I went to Gore Vidal's The Best Man on Broadway last week and sat through two of them fairly contentedly. One of the friends I went with was so terrified of the length, he announced before the curtain even went up that he would likely be exiting early. Amazingly, he did not.

I recall hearing a man once explain that he had grown a beard because not having to shave saved him ten minutes every morning. He then confessed that he shaved it off again because "it turned out I had nothing to do for ten minutes." I know that sounds a bit twisted, but I kind of get it.

Concurrently, I am writing a paper for a class which asks whether we can learn to eat mindfully in a multi-tasking world. This sounds far more spiritually evolved than I am, by the way, but the subject sort of intrigued me. I love to eat and like many others, I don't think enough about the chain that got that food to the table. Not to mention whether I was full six bites ago, or whether I really need that sticky toffee pudding, too. In truth, that subject is more about putting down the phone and turning off the TV to savor a meal than it is about keeping it brief. But can anyone doubt that we live in an increasingly fast food culture that goes way beyond the dining table?

There are some things that are great to do quickly: run a race, for one. I appreciate that the dental hygienist does a pretty efficient, speedy cleaning. The NBA season, drastically curtailed due to a strike, has turned out to be more exciting. And yes, that 20 minute wash and blow-dry has its appeal, though it also robs me of an opportunity for a conversation with someone out of my ordinary circle.

On the flip side, I still look forward to settling into a nine inning baseball game, or a good, long book. (in my hand!) I am not afraid to commit to a "Downton Abbey" or even a five season catch-up of "The Wire." But I am sure you hear, as often as I do, that many folks just don't have the time to commit to a long-form series. As I often say of people who don't have the courtesy to return an email query, no one is that busy.

There is no doubt that parents learn as much from our kids as the other way around, whether it is in how to use our electronics to knowing which one is Jay-Z and which one is Kanye. But I would like to think we can pass on to them the idea that this A.D.D. pace is not mandatory. And that some things are worth sticking around for -- such as the union that brought them into the world. I mean, where would they be if we had been offered the nine-minute divorce?