Metaphors we speed by

I was half-listening to this Ted Talk by Carl Honoré, In praise of slowness, as I folded laundry. Honoré’s argument is exactly what you might expect: the pace of modern life continues to accelerate, and it’s wreaking havoc on our mental, physical, and environmental health (NB: I do realize the slight irony of listening to this talk while folding laundry). As I was listening, it occurred to me that, although he never says this, he blames our modern speed on the metaphors we use to talk about time. He mentions that in western cultures we talk about time as a “draining resource,” and frequently say things like, “you either use it or lose it. And we don’t just talk about time this way, saying things like “time is money,” but we think about time as a limited resource, and we act accordingly; in other words, we speed up our actions. Listening to Honoré, I immediately thought back to the 1980 book by Lakoff and Johnson, Metaphors we Live By, which claims that the metaphors we speak shape the way we conceive of and act in the world. I think about time a lot and how we make sense of it, but this was a novel angle for reflecting about the question for me. I wonder if we were to start talking about time differently, would we think about it differently too? What if we all adapted my favorite metaphor for time, Thoreau’s “time is but a stream I go a-fishing in”? Could new metaphors encourage us to slow down?


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