Hartmut Rosa: In fact, this question is not easy to answer. What is evident is the fact that in modernity, social acceleration has become a necessity. Modern societies can only reproduce, they can only maintain the status quo if they grow and innovate and accelerate. You can easily see this in the realm of the economy: if our modern, capitalist economies do not grow, the system is in crisis and decline. We lose jobs, companies close down, tax-revenues decline, welfare systems are strained and this puts pressure on the political system as well. Thus, acceleration and growth are necessities for modern societies, for they can only stabilize dynamically: no stability without acceleration.
But it has not always been this way. Most pre-modern societies followed a more static form of stabilization: they reproduced and maintained the status quo by keeping things as they are. This does not mean that they never accelerated or innovated, but they only did so accidentally or due to circumstantial pressures or changes. They did not have an inherent need for acceleration.
CG: We live in a speed society, everything is going faster leaving the individuals with a feeling to have to cope with completely inhuman rhythms. Is this acceleration in your opinion an inherent consequence of modern technik or the “philosophy” of technology is only one face of turbo-capitalism for which “time is money” as Benjamin Franklin put it?
HR: In my view, technology clearly is not the cause of social acceleration. Rather, it is the other way round: modern technology arose – it was invented – because of the time-famine of modernity. You can make this point historically as well as logically: most technologies help us to save time. More than this: it is the purpose of almost all modern technologies to save time. Thus, cars, hair-dryers, microwave-ovens or telephones are all machines built for the purpose of speeding-up “natural” processes.
Logically, this should create free time-resources for us. Take the email: to write and send an email only takes half the time of writing and sending a letter. Thus, if you have to write 10 messages and 10 letters take one hour, while 10 emails take half an hour, you gain 30 minutes. But where are they? Why is it that you have even less time now than before the email age?
The answer is easy: because you do not read and write 10 emails instead of 10 letters, but 20, 30 or 40. But this is not the fault of technology, it is not inherent in the logic of technology. Rather, it is the general logic of increase and growth that speeds up social life and creates the hunger for technological speed-up. This logic of increase itself is not driven by technology, but by social competition and economic capitalism.
See also Social Acceleration.