views updated May 23 2018


The word speed is derived from the Middle English spede (good luck), which in turn originated from older roots meaning to prosper or succeed. In its contemporary usage, speed refers to a rate of change. It commonly denotes the time it takes to travel a certain distance (e.g., a rate of 60 miles per hour), but it is also used to describe the time needed to perform certain tasks or operations, especially in information processing (e.g., a computer with a 500-megahertz processing speed). Individual artifacts such as cars, airplanes, and computers are achieving ever-greater speeds, which has effectively decreased and in some cases nearly eliminated distance. The speed of modern travel and communication has shrunk the world and radically altered the experience of time and place for individuals, corporations, and nations. Increased speed at this level of analysis presents several important safety and ethical issues.

The Technological Singularity and Other Analyses

But even more profound implications derive from the speed at which the very processes of technological innovation and knowledge creation occur. Moore's law (holding that growth in the number of transistors per integrated circuit will be exponential) was generalized to all technologies by Raymond Kurzweil in his "law of accelerating returns." Some futurologists claim that this acceleration will lead to a "technological singularity." This denotes the point in the development of a civilization at which technological change accelerates beyond the ability of present-day humans to fully comprehend, guide, predict, or control it. It derives mostly from the use of the term singularity in physics to indicate the failure of conventional models to predict change as one approaches a gravitational singularity—an event or location of infinite power such as a black hole, where matter is so dense that its gravity is infinite. When a black hole absorbs nearby matter and energy, an event horizon separates this region from the rest of the universe, constituting a rupture in the structure of space and time. Vernor Vinge (1993) developed the concept of technological singularity and applied it more specifically to the advent of greater-than-human intelligence. Beyond the technological singularity lies a fundamentally transformed world, perhaps one dominated by machines that have goals inconsistent with those of humanity. Vinge concluded that if the singularity can happen it will, because the competitive advantage afforded by advances in technology assures their implementation.

Many other analyses of modernity have noted this acceleration and described its personal and social consequences. Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, warned of its actual and impending dehumanizing effects. Alvin Toffler (1970) summed up this wider rendition of speed with his coinage "future shock," as the overwhelming rate of change transforms institutions, shifts values, and undermines cultural and personal foundations. Toffler argued that the rate of change can be even more important than the direction of change in terms of psychological and social impacts. With his concept of "cultural lag," William F. Ogburn (1922, revised 1950) focused more on differential rates of change between interdependent parts of society. For example, science and technology usually operate at a much faster—though in his 1950 revised version, Ogburn admitted it might not be an ever increasing—rate than cultural beliefs and social institutions. Deborah G. Johnson (2001) argued that this differential speed creates "policy vacuums" as social decisions lag behind technological innovation. The French essayist and urbanologist Paul Virilio (1995) similarly claimed that immediacy and instantaneity present the most pressing challenges and ethical concerns at the personal, economic, political, and military levels.

Perception and Experience

In a psychological and even existential sense the perception of relative speeds is rooted in the workings of human consciousness. Oliver Sacks (2004) noted how early psychologists used developments in cinematography to elucidate the perception of time. Late-nineteenth-century innovations in cinecameras allowed photographers to register larger or smaller numbers of events over a given period by adjusting the frames exposed per second. This allowed them to capture the frenzied flapping of bees' wings or the slow unfurling of fern crosiers and re-present them at the rate of normal human perception.

In his Principles of Psychology (1890), William James (1842–1910) used the metaphor of altering the frames per second exposed to light to explain the human perception of time. If we were able to process 10,000 events per second instead of the usual ten, then time (measured, as it must be, by our experiences or sense impressions of the world) would slow down. So too, if we were able to process only one-thousandth of the sensations per second than normal, then time would speed up. In the former case, the sun would stand still. In the latter case, mushrooms would spring up and shrubs would rise and fall like restlessly boiling water. Human consciousness is a roll of film spinning at such a rate as to expose a certain number of frames per second, thus giving rise to normal perceptions of time and the speed, as it were, of human awareness or being.

Later sensory psychologists have examined cases of aberrant time perception. For example, several subjects have reported a tremendous slowing of time when suddenly threatened with mortal danger. The metaphorical explanation often proposed for these phenomena is that the human brain, in moments of extreme stress, is able to reduce the duration of individual frames and expose more of them per second. This accelerates thought and increases the speed of decision-making capabilities. From a physiological perspective, such instances may result from a flood of excitatory or a relaxation of inhibitory neurotransmitters.

Certain drugs also provide departures from normal time. Hashish makes events appear to slow down, whereas mescaline and amphetamines accelerate them. Indeed the latter drug is commonly referred to as "speed," indicating the subjective, phenomenological quality of time as a function of brain chemistry and consciousness. Sacks notes there are persistent disorders of neural speed, some of which can be caused by encephalitis lethargica and Parkinson's disease. Some patients can experience radical slowing of thought and movement, which can sometimes be reversed by reducing dopamine deficiencies with the drug L-dopa.

On another experiential level, Virilio states that the primary consequences of the increasing speed of modern life are personal, amounting to disorientation concerning reality. He argues that the globalized, instantaneous flows of information in cyberspace undermine the deep-seated spatial and temporal anchors of the human experience. His views find support, for example, in the way that some virtual relationships have led to tragic decisions by teenagers who become victims of sexual predators on the web. The lightning speed of cyberspace communications has undoubtedly altered fundamental human experiences such as love and intimacy. In many urban areas the Internet is reshaping dating and courtship. Love at hyperspeed brings conveniences by matching supply and demand in a more systematic fashion than haphazard meetings, but it also shifts the meaning of relationships in ways that require personal and social adjustment.

The speed of Internet and satellite communication provides the benefit of instantaneously connecting loved ones separated by great distances. Cyberspace, however, may give only a false sense of closeness. For example, the members of a suburban family in the United States usually have hectic schedules that scatter them significantly in physical space and, when by means of a cell-phone family plan, computer messaging, or both, they succeed in communicating mostly on-the-go, this form of communication eclipses more traditional ones occurring in such shared places as the dinner table or the living room.

It is nevertheless important not to romanticize the past. At least since the 1950s in industrialized countries, family time and communication between fathers and their children were infrequent in many households. The increase of dual-income families and the rise of television viewing have further undermined family intimacy. Nonetheless, the experience of cyberspace communications is qualitatively different in that the interlocutors' bodily presences and languages are absent from voice or text messages.

Despite variances in the range of speeds at which human thought can operate, there are basic neurological determinants that limit human cognitive capacities (e.g., serial computations, recognition, and associations). These limits are frequently tested by the accelerated flows of information and technical change in modern life, but drugs, supplements, and perhaps even neural human–computer interfaces may be able to expand cognitive processing speeds. Cognitive prostheses can improve human cognition, much as eyeglasses improve vision. For example, an airplane cockpit display has been developed that shows crucial information so that a pilot can understand what the aircraft is doing in a fraction of a second instead of the usual few seconds (Bower 2003). Such technologies are based in human cognitive studies research on information processing and visual tracking.

There is, however, controversy about whether such mind-expanding devices are a blessing or a curse, because they bring about even greater pressures by increasing the speed of information processing. This raises the stakes in case of human or machine error. Beyond concerns of safety, however, these actions raise profound issues about how humans synchronize with nature and society. Toffler (1970) echoed the sentiments of many critics of modernity by suggesting that there is something dangerous and even alienating about the rapid tempo of change. Individuals and society are maladapted to such breakneck speeds, and we require social and personal mechanisms to regulate change and decelerate it to a more human pace.

Economic Consequences

At least since Karl Marx's critique of industrial capitalism in the mid-nineteenth century, many theorists and workers alike have disparaged some of the effects of greater speed introduced into manufacturing processes by automated production equipment. They argue that these devices should conform to the humans operating the equipment, not the other way around; otherwise, increased speed jeopardizes the physical and mental health of workers. Critics also point out that these changes often involve exploitation by decreasing bargaining power, pay, status, and/or self-esteem. The increased speed and efficiency of machines has also caused unemployment as human workers become less profitable. Tracking the economic consequences of technological innovation is difficult, however, because it often creates new employment opportunities elsewhere.

The increased speed of financial and economic activity raises more concerns than just competitiveness versus risks to physical and mental health. Indeed, on a larger scale, it could be argued that the competitive profit motive driving capitalism is a major cause of the accelerating pace of modern life. Internet transactions have globalized financial markets as investments can be made at the speed of light and funds shuffled between countries at the press of a button. Transnational businesses are able to create information networks that bypass the traditional power of the nation-state. Toffler (1980) noted the rise of "third wave" societies based on information, communication, and technologies operating at rapid speeds. Not only does this shift power in the sense that nonstate actors make more and more major decisions, but it also increases the interconnectivity of third wave countries because communication linkages and knowledge have largely replaced industrial processes as their economic lifelines.

Interconnectivity brought about by increased reliance on swift, automated information technologies allows for a more fluid and responsive economy and greater specialization of production. It also, however, increases volatility and vulnerability to shocks anywhere in the system. This had led some (e.g., Siegele 2002) to propose the need for economic "circuit breakers" to protect global markets from cascading failures. Such precautionary measures and restrictions, however, need to be balanced against the benefits of free flows of global capital. Furthermore, even if the speed and integration of information flows may lead to more sudden downturns, they can increase the rate of economic recovery as well. Nonetheless, economic laws, regulations, and institutions are forced to globalize at the same speed as the technology in order to secure and harmonize economic activities.

The instantaneity of communication has generated the real-time economy, which has large macroeconomic effects and impacts at the level of individual companies. Real-time enterprises, ideally, will be able to monitor internal and external conditions in order to react to changes instantaneously. Through increased communication with customers, they will also be able to rapidly offer new products and services, thus more tightly coupling demand and supply. The flood of information threatens to overload companies, which have responded by developing software to optimize supply chains and automate certain responses to real-time cues.

Rapidly changing markets and technologies increase competitive pressures for firms to increase integration and flexibility, which can lead to organizational problems. The emergence of the real-time economy more directly pins economic vitality on the smooth functioning of integrated technologies. A software virus, for example, could cause massive economic collapse. Ludwig Siegele (2002) offers the conclusion that such drawbacks are not inherent in the technologies, but arise from the way they are used. But he adds, "it is worth asking to what extent we want computers to run our lives" (p. S20).

Cultural benefits are also generated by the speed of new communication technologies. For example, the time gap between the release of a Hollywood movie in the United States and its debut elsewhere in the world has been drastically cut, symbolizing the free flow of art and culture made possible by these new speeds. In some cases this may foster greater cross-cultural understanding and tolerance. Some, however, perceive this as a threat to local economies and cultures, which now must accelerate to keep up with foreign competition. Cultural homogenization may result.

Social and Political Consequences

Economic consequences of increased technological speed spill over into social changes. Harriet B. Presser (1999) noted that the use of rapid communication technologies is one factor in the widespread prevalence of nonstandard work schedules. The globalization of markets and the ability to be "on call" all the time require expanded hours of operation. This affects the family lives of workers and requires social institutions such as daycare to adapt to changing needs. The increased reliance on rapid communication technologies by the military also carries social and political consequences. Such advances in the U.S. military have tested the limits of telecommunication capacity, or bandwidth, which is expensive to expand. Although the real-time information gained can help protect both troops and civilians, politicians face trade-off dilemmas concerning the best investment of public funds.

Real-time politics has brought both beneficial and detrimental effects to democratic processes. The immediacy of citizen participation in government may contribute to political accountability and strengthen civic commitments. For example, the Internet has sparked a new wave of social responsibility by organizing protestors around the world (McPherson and Schapiro 2001). It allows like-minded activists to communicate, build consensus, coordinate activities and information, and provide mutual moral support. Campaigns against "sweatshop" labor have been primarily organized via the Internet. Such forms of communication may even help foster democracies in nations controlled by tyrants. One drawback, however, is that passions unleashed at the speed of the Internet often outstrip facts and evidence, which can delegitimize well-meaning social reformers.

Other negative effects can result from real-time politics. Virilio argues that representative democracy is undermined by the virtualization of government and the rise of opinion democracy patterned on viewer counts and opinion polls. Political leaders may pander to public opinion rather than make unpopular, but perhaps better, decisions. Public opinion polls often reflect short-term interests, whereas leaders must balance these with long-term common-interest goals. The greater speed of communication often undermines careful deliberation and reasoned judgment, but it can also better inform such deliberation. But referendum reforms were altering the balance of participatory and representative democracy before the real-time computerization of politics. So, cyber-speeds may aggravate more than cause this dilemma.

Increasing speed of information flows can exacerbate the complexity and multiplicity of policy issues, leading to issue overload. This is a situation in which the multitude and complexity of issues exceeds what individuals can understand and societies can handle through the courts (leading to court-case overload), legislation (producing tunnel-vision laws), or executive or other institutional channels (Breyer 1993).

On a larger scale, Stewart Brand (1999) argued that the accelerating pace of technological change, the short-term perspective of consumerist lifestyles, and the short-term focus of political election cycles have all eroded the concept of long-term responsibility. The acceleration of experiential time effectively reduces the timescale of interest, thus shrinking the horizon of felt obligation. Brand writes, "Our ever hastier decisions and actions do not respond to our long-term understanding, or to the gravity of responsibility we bear" (p. 8). In order not to be doomed by speed, we must slow down enough to allow time to apply the brakes in case of emergencies.

He proposed a balancing corrective to this shortsightedness to help us accept our long-term responsibilities to nature and future generations. In cooperation with others, Brand founded the Long Now Foundation in 1996 and began to design the Clock of the Long Now, a giant mechanical clock to be set somewhere in the U.S. desert to record time for 10,000 years. The goal is to embody deep time in a way that counterbalances the shrinking timescales experienced by those caught up in the speed of modern life.


SEE ALSO Artificial Intelligence;Communication Systems;Cyberculture;Cyberspace;Economics and Ethics;Information Overload;Internet;Turing Tests;Work.


Bower, Bruce. (2003). "Mind-Expanding Machines: Artificial Intelligence Meets Good Old-Fashioned Human Thought." Science News 164(9): 136–138.

Brand, Stewart. (1999). The Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility. New York: Basic.

Breyer, Stephen. (1993). Breaking the Vicious Circle: Toward Effective Risk Regulation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Johnson, Deborah G. (2001). Computer Ethics, 3rd edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

McPherson, Michael S., and Morton Owen Schapiro. (2001). "When Protests Proceed at Internet Speed." Chronicle of Higher Education, 23 March, B24.

Ogburn, William F. (1922). Social Change with Respect to Culture and Original Nature. New York: Huebsch. Ogburn's first systematic formulation of cultural lag as a part of his theory of social change, which was presented in the chapter "The Hypothesis of Cultural Lag." Later editions, including the 1950 revision of the book, were published by Viking.

Presser, Harriet B. (1999). "Toward a 24-Hour Economy." Science 284(5421): 1778–1779.

Sacks, Oliver. (2004). "Speed: Aberrations of Time and Movement." New Yorker 80(23): 60–69.

Siegele, Ludwig. (2002). "How About Now? A Survey of the Real-Time Economy." Economist, 2 February, S3–S20.

Toffler, Alvin. (1970). Future Shock. New York: Random House. Argues that there can be too much change in too short of a time, and therefore we need to improve our ability to wisely regulate, moderate, and apply technology to serve human ends.

Toffler, Alvin. (1980). The Third Wave. New York: Morrow. Develops the thesis that information societies are a qualitative shift beyond industrial societies and explains several consequences of this shift.

Vinge, Vernor. (1993). "Technological Singularity." Whole Earth Review, no. 81: 88–95.


Virilio, Paul. (1995). "Speed and Information: Cyberspace Alarm!" trans. Patrice Riemens. CTHEORY.net, 27 August. Available from http://www.ctheory.net/text_file.asp?pick=72.


views updated Jun 08 2018


Speed is the popular name for methamphetamine (also called methedrine), a drug that has strong stimulant effects on the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). Speed is similar to amphetamine, but it has greater effects on the central nervous system and lesser effects on the cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems. In other words, like amphetamine, speed causes increased activity, increased talkativeness, more energy and less fatigue, decreased food intake, and a general sense of well-being. Because speed dissolves more easily in water than amphetamine, drug abusers generally choose to inject speed. Injecting the drug into the veins results in the production of a rush. Some users describe the rush as the most desirable effect of the drug.

Japan was the first nation to experience a major epidemic of methamphetamine use. During World War II, the militaries of both Japan and the United States produced large quantities of methamphetamines to keep combat troops alert. In Japan immediately after the war, the drugs were released for sale to the Japanese public. Within a short time there was widespread use and abuse of the drug, much of it by injection. At the peak of the epidemic, more than a million Japanese were using methamphetamines.

Despite the experience of the Japanese, many in the United States continued to believe that amphetamines did not lead to abuse. At the time, these drugs were not subject to any special controls or regulations by the state or federal government. In contrast, government laws control the availability of other drugs, such as codeine, so that these substances are available only with the prescription of a physician and in strictly limited quantities. The first speed epidemic in the United States began in the 1960s in the San Francisco, California area. A number of doctors there were prescribing the drug to people addicted to heroin. These drug abusers self-injected speed as a substitute for heroin. The drug became widely popular, and increasing numbers of people claimed to be heroin abusers just so that they could obtain prescriptions for speed. In the mid-1960s the government began to limit the sale of intravenous speed to pharmacies. As a result, speed that was produced illegally began to appear on the street. By the late 1960s a large number of users throughout the United States were injecting high doses of this illegal speed on a regular basis. Many experienced the drug's toxic (poisonous) effects, including paranoid psychosis (amphetamine psychosis).

Speed never completely disappeared from street use, but by the 1970s its availability greatly decreased. This trend began to reverse during the 1980s, with pockets of speed abuse occurring in the United States. One outbreak of speed use occurred in Hawaii, where users were taking the drug in a smokable form. This form of speed is called "ice" or "crystal."

Ice is a large, usually clear crystal of high purity (greater than 90 percent). Users smoke it using a glass pipe with two openings, much like a crack-cocaine pipe. Because it is a large crystal, it is difficult to mix the drug with additives. This purity makes the drug extremely desirable to buyers of illegal drugs. The smoke is odorless and, un- like crack, the residue of the drug stays in the pipe and can be smoked again. Users report that the effects last for as long as twelve hours, although it is likely that this prolonged effect is due to the use of several doses.

Speed users, like cocaine users, often take the drug in binges that last from several hours to several days. During this time the user takes repeated doses of the drug and does not eat or sleep. Ending a speed binge results in a crash, in which the user becomes tired and depressed . The most severe toxic effect of repeated speed use is paranoid psychosis, which may last for several months. After a period in which the user remains drug-free, this psychosis generally resolves. However, it can reappear if the user returns to speed abuse.

There are no medications to help speed users break their habit. Addicted users may need supportive treatment to help them get through the period of time during which they are stopping drug use. Antiseizure medications may be given to help the user avoid convulsions. Antidepressants may help improve symptoms of depression that occur after stopping speed use.

Treatment of speed abuse usually involves cognitive behavioral psychotherapy. This is a form of talk therapy that helps the user learn new patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving, to help the user avoid returning to drug use. Information on finding treatment programs in local communities can be found at http://www.jointogether.org/sa/ help/treatment/.

see also Amphetamine; Designer Drugs.


views updated May 23 2018

speed / spēd/ • n. 1. rapidity of movement or action: the accident was due to excessive speed| fig. they were bemused by the speed of events. ∎  the rate at which someone or something is able to move or operate: the car has a top speed of 147 mph. ∎  each of the possible gear ratios of a bicycle or motor vehicle. ∎  the sensitivity of photographic film to light. ∎  the light-gathering power or f-number of a camera lens. ∎  the duration of a photographic exposure.2. inf. an amphetamine drug, esp. methamphetamine.3. inf. something that matches one's tastes or inclinations: oak tables and chairs are more his speed.4. archaic success; prosperity: wish me good speed.• v. (past sped / sped/ or speed·ed) 1. [intr.] move quickly: I got into the car and home we sped. ∎  [intr.] (of a motorist) travel at a speed that is greater than the legal limit: the car that crashed was speeding. ∎  (speed up) move or work more quickly: you force yourself to speed up because you don't want to keep others waiting. ∎  [tr.] cause to move, act, or happen more quickly: recent initiatives have sought to speed up decision-making.2. [tr.] archaic make prosperous or successful: may God speed you.3. [intr.] inf. take or be under the influence of an amphetamine drug: more kids than ever are speeding, tripping, and getting stoned.PHRASES: at speed quickly: a car flashed past them at speed.up to speed operating at full speed. ∎  (of a person or company) performing at an anticipated rate or level. ∎  (of a person) fully informed or up to date: that reminds me to bring you up to speed on the soap opera.DERIVATIVES: speed·er n.


views updated May 23 2018

Speed ★★★ ½ 1994 (R)

Excellent dude Reeves has grown up (and bulked up) as Los Angeles SWAT cop Jack Traven, up against bomb expert Howard Payne (Hopper, more maniacal than usual), who's after major ransom money. First it's a rigged elevator in a very tall building. Then it's a rigged bus—if it slows, it will blow, bad enough any day, but a nightmare in LA traffic. And that's still not the end. Terrific directorial debut for cinematographer De Bont, who certainly knows how to keep the adrenaline pumping. Fine support work by Daniels, Bullock, and Morton and enough wit in Yost's script to keep you chuckling. Great nonstop actioner from the “Die Hard” school. 115m/C VHS, DVD, Blu-ray Disc, UMD . Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock, Joe Morton, Jeff Daniels, Alan Ruck, Glenn Plummer, Richard Lineback, Beth Grant, Hawthorne James, David Kriegel, Carlos Carrasco, Natsuko Ohama, Daniel Villarreal; D: Jan De Bont; W: Graham Yost; C: Andrzej Bartkowiak; M: Mark Mancina. Oscars '94: Sound; MTV Movie Awards '95: Female Perf. (Bullock), Most Desirable Female (Bullock), On-Screen Duo (Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock), Villain (Hopper), Action Seq.; Blockbuster '95: Movie, V., Action Actress, V. (Bullock), Action Actress, T. (Bullock).


views updated May 23 2018

speed Rate of motion of a body. Speed is a scalar (magnitude only) which does not specify direction, whereas velocity is a vector (magnitude and direction). An object's speed is calculated by dividing the distance s it has travelled by the time t taken, and this is expressed as v=s/t and given in metres per second (ms-1) or kilometres/miles per hour.


views updated May 18 2018

speed †success (surviving in phr. wish good s.): quickness. OE. spēd, earlier spœd = OS. spōd, OHG. spuot; f. Gmc. *spōan (OE. spōwan, OHG. spuo(e)n prosper, succeed).
Hence speed vb. OE. spēdan, usu. gespēdan = OS. spōdian (Du. spoeden), OHG. spuoten.


views updated May 09 2018

speed of a computer. A rather vaguely defined term that is often used to indicate the relative processing power of a given computer system, since the power of a computer is largely governed by the ability of the central processing unit to execute instructions rapidly. The CPU's speed is itself dependent on numerous factors such as word length, instruction set, technology of implementation, and memory access times.