Thursday, 21 August 2008

How much speed do we need?

The fastest blowhard ever?

Before I discuss the above story, it put me in mind of a trailer for a film I saw at the cinema yesterday (I saw Hellboy II, which was great, I'll never look at Barry Manilow in the same way again).
The trailer was for a film called Death Race. From what I could gather, it's about a near future where the worlds major sporting event is a race to the death by prisoners in custom made heavily armed cars. It stars Jason Statham (who used to do those Kit Kat adverts) and Ian McShane (Lovejoy). There are other plot points, such as the each driver having a navigator (who is always , apparently, a laughably attractive and well figured female ex-con from a nearby women's prison with a penchant for tight revealing clothes). Cue lots of high octane thrills and explosions as armoured cars chase each other at breakneck speeds around battered highways, all guns blazing. Seriously, I could almost smell the testosterone emanating off it. i felt my IQ drop just watching the trailer.
But this film is just a logical progression of the current trend in films kicked off by 'The Fast and the Furious'. High speed, semi-naked women and only the flimsiest of justifications for any of this macho posturing.
But how far is this from real life. The above article discusses another land speed record attempt, this time in a wind powered vehicle (I'm not going to write any fart jokes, use your imagination if you need to). I applaud this attempt, especially to show the viability of renewable energy sources. Although I worry that the article doesn't state what the current wind-powered vehicle speed is. If it's something like 53mph, the macho speed freaks will be put off for life.
I hope it goes well for the guys making the attempt, it would be great if they managed it. But I've often wondered when reading things like this; Why do humans have this obsession with going fast? The Olympics at the moment are a good example, in that the majority of events boil down to 'who can do this the fastest?'. Swimming, running, cycling, sailing. There are other events which ask 'who can do this the best?' such as table tennis, boxing or gymnastics, but these generally seem to get less coverage (unless team GB might get a medal, of course, then it could be anything, even tiddlywinks).
It's obvious that people like going fast. Roller Coasters, F1, breaking the speed limit, Joyriding, all popular pastimes, but why? Surely, going fast enough to cause severe injury and/or death is a crap survival trait, so it shouldn't be seen as a plus. But then, when you think in evolutionary terms, it actually does make more sense. When being chased by a predator, those who can move the fastest survive, so they reproduce. Those who actively enjoy going fast do it more often, thus getting fitter and faster, thus being the ones who survive. People were hunters as well, same logic applies. The fastest hunters get the prey, so eat, and survive. Prey gets faster, hunters have to go faster too. Positive feedback, all of which conspires to give us a subconscious love of high velocity.
It's evolutionary logical, but is it as essential as people seem to think these days. We're always so impatient. Some people can't even be bothered to read Blogs longer than a paragraph, I bet half the people who see this have given up by now, and if you did, screw you all! If we travelled slower, it would help solve our fuel problems. Travelling 50mph rather than 70mph drastically reduces fuel consumption, but we'd get places slower. And? Everything has such a massive sense of urgency these days. Deadlines, low attention spans, instant gratification, all smacks of impatience. People seem physically offended if their Internet download time is anything less than 1mbps these days, but so what? It's probably porn anyway, how desperate can someone be to view smut?
Physics doesn't like speed. Lightspeed seems to be the universal speed limit. Granted, we're a long way from travelling that fast, but when we do reach it, maybe reality will put its metaphysical foot down and say 'enough'. But of course, then we'll discover warp drive or hyperspace, and have kids knicking starships and joyriding around that deserted nebula. Bloody kids.
But the love of speed drives so much of our society. We want it now, so whoever can give it to us faster gets our business. Maybe we need to shake this habit once and for all. Many pessimists say our society is 'hurtling towards oblivion'. Can't we stroll towards oblivion instead? Maybe well enjoy the walk so much we'll decide to not finish the journey at all.

(I was going for poignant there, not sure if it worked, but I'm in that sort of mood)

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