29 MAY 1905Posted: 2009/09/22
A man or a woman suddenly thrust into this world would have to dodge houses and buildings. For all is in motion. Houses and apartments, mounted on wheels, go careening through Bahnhofplatz and race through the narrows of Marktgasse, their occupants shouting from second-floor windows. The Post Bureau doesn’t remain on Postgasse, but flies through the city on rails, like a train. Nor does the Bundeshaus sit quietly on Bundesgasse. Everywhere the air whines and roars with the sound of motors and locomotion When a person comes out of his front door at sunrise, he hits the ground running, catches up with his office building, hurries up and down flights of stairs, works at a desk propelled in circles, gallops home at the end of the day. No one sits under a tree with a book, no one gazes at the ripples on a pond, no one lies in thick grass in the country. No one is still.
Why such a fixation on speed? Because in this world time passes mere slowly for people in motion. Thus everyone travels at high velocity, to gain time.
The speed effect was not noticed until the invention of the internal combustion engine and the beginnings of rapid transportation. On 8 September 1889, Mr. Randolph Whig of Surrey took his mother-in-law to London at high speed in his new motor car. To his delight, he arrived in half the expected time, a conversation having scarcely begun, and decided to look into the phenomenon. After his researches were published, no one went slowly again.
Since time is money, financial considerations alone dictate that each brokerage house, each manufacturing plant, each grocer’s shop constantly travel as rapidly as possible, to achieve advantage over their competitors. Such buildings are fitted with giant engines of propulsion and are never at rest. Their motors and crankshafts roar far more loudly than the equipment and people inside them.
Likewise, houses are sold not just on their size and design, but also on speed. For the faster a house travels, the more slowly the clocks tick inside and the more time available to its occupants. Depending on the speed, a person in a fast house could gain several minutes on his neighbors in a single day. This obsession with speed carries through the night, when valuable time could be lost, or gained, while asleep. At night, the streets are ablaze with lights, so that passing houses might avoid collisions, which are always fatal- At night, people dream of speed, of youth, of opportunity.
In this world of great speed, one fact has been only slowly appreciated. By logical tautology, the motional effect is all relative. Because when two people pass on the street, each perceives the other in motion, just as a man in a train perceives the trees to fly by his window. Consequently, when two people pass on the street, each sees the other’s time flow more slowly – each sees the other gaining time. This reciprocity is maddening. More maddening still, the faster one travels past a neighbor, the faster the neighbor appears to be traveling.
Frustrated and despondent, some people have stopped looking out their windows. With the shades drawn, they never know how fast they are moving, how fast their neighbors and competitors are moving. They rise in the morning, take baths, eat plaited bread and ham, work at their desks, listen to music, talk to their children, lead lives of satisfaction.
Some argue that only the giant clock tower on Kramgasse keeps the true time, that it alone is at rest. Others point out that even the giant clock is in motion when viewed from the river Aare, or from a cloud.