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Melamed: Time to slow down and smell the roses

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“Dad, we’re medical students. We have no time to waste. We need to work to survive economically and we need to memorize and understand a lot of material to survive academically. Plus, we deserve to have a life. We’re in a never-ending race. So we watch video recordings of the lectures at 1.5 playback speed, and that’s also how we do everything else.”

At first I thought my son Guy was joking. I could not comprehend how it was possible to listen to a medical school lecture at an unnatural speed.

“Show me how to do it on YouTube,” I said. To which he responded: “Dad, it’s very simple. I’m sure you can figure it out for yourself.”

Well, I could not. So I asked Sivan, my 15-year-old daughter.

“Pick a YouTube video and I’ll show you,” she said.

I picked the song “Lalechet Shevi Acharayich” (“Devoted to You”) sung by Ilanit, my favourite singer. It is a song that moves me anew every time I hear it. It is the soundtrack to my relationship with Israel.

Sivan showed me how to speed up the video to 1.5 times the normal speed. Although I could follow the immortal words when I listened to it sped up, I also found it disappointing to hear the words, “to live on and within this terrible and beautiful land … to hurt and to fall in love again,” at such a high rate of speed. I felt as if Ilanit wanted to tick this song off her to do list and move on to the next.

In the book, The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry describes how the Little Prince encountered a merchant who sold pills that quenched thirst, so one would not feel the need to drink.

“Why are you selling those pills?” asked the Little Prince.

Because they save a tremendous amount of time,” said the merchant. “Computations have been made by experts. With these pills, you save 53 minutes in every week.”

“And what do I do with those 53 minutes?”

“Anything you like.”

“As for me,” said the Little Prince to himself, “if I had 53 minutes to spend as I liked, I should walk at my leisure to the spring to drink fresh water.”

Of course, one cannot blame medical students for using technology to listen to lectures at higher speeds. Instead of 60 minutes to take in a lecture, they need only 40. But what of others who are constantly rushing – to get somewhere, to achieve, to advance?

A recurring motif in conversations with my children is the importance of time. They became tired of hearing their father repeatedly proclaim in their young ears whenever “boredom” was mentioned: “Time is the most precious resource given to people, yet it’s constantly wasted. There is no place in this house for the word ‘bored!’ ”

Whenever one of them would complain about school or the army, he or she would be told, “One of these days, you’ll miss this!” Once they reached high school, they all admitted that they missed the obligation-free days of elementary school. When they were in the army, they told me they missed the happy days of high school. And in all probability, in the future, they will also miss (at least some of) their army experiences.

This all begs the questions: Does someone who moves faster get more done? And does someone who gets more done live a better life?

In our world, as we are faced with the sensory overload of addictive technology, our challenge is changing. No longer are we just confronted with gaining and processing as much knowledge as possible. We must develop the skills to filter and block information and re-learn how to move slower. In a society that is on fast-forward, it bodes well to listen to the Little Prince as he teaches us “to walk at leisure” and, if possible, move the speed of life back from fast forward to normal.

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Sagi Melamed is vice-president of external relations and development at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College and president of the Harvard Club of Israel. He is the author of Son of My Land and Fundraising.