Douglas & McIntyre, 291 pp, $24.95, softcover.
Despite this book's stylish cover, the subject matter and academic background of author Heather Menzies might disincline one to take No Time: Stress and the Crisis of Modern Life on a summer vacation. Pity: it could be the ideal setting for digesting this brilliantly humane, literary, personal, and scholarly investigation of how modern living's fast-paced demands and technological abstractions are stressing us all out, and what that means for us individually and collectively.
While Menzies uses studies and statistics-like those reporting an increase in depression among Canadians from 14 percent of the work force in 1991 to over 33 percent in 2001, or the 1997 Ontario Children's Aid Society study that found their social workers spent 85 percent of their time on computer work versus 15 percent meeting with children and families in crisis-the core of No Time is dialogues and reflection. Whether talking stress with truckers, nurses, and information executives, or discovering that her transcription assistant suffers chronic fatigue, Menzies roots her investigation in what these changes mean to real people's daily lives.
A result of increasingly abstract communication, Menzies argues, is that the value of particular locations in time and space (a "space of places") has been replaced by a "space of flows", with data and symbols achieving primacy over lived experience. "It's not just the relentless speed of it all, nor being scattered across a bunch of multi-tasking fragments, it's the fact that we're engaged in a realm of pure representation, ready-made icons and modules of standardized symbols ...."
In a Canadian book on the sociocultural implications of technology, reference to Marshall McLuhan is expected, and Menzies repeats his warning that "the scale and pace of technology could amputate the rest of our lives by numbing our sensibilities," a prescient thought, given that, as Menzies points out, the hallmark of stress is "a kind of anaesthetization".
Her basic argument (our stressed lives distance us from real life) and prescriptions for change (slow down, live time not as quantity but as quality) may be familiar, but the pace and scope of her writing make this book great nutrition for growing something closer to a healthy life.