Fast and Furious, the movie

There are many strange facts in this world that are best kept within the realm of fiction. Some of these facts even border on the ridiculous and they make you wonder whether even facts can be adjusted and thus, in extrapolation, the truth also.

Americans often refer to things being fast; fast food restaurants aka McDonald, Burger King, and even the U.S congress thinks there can be a “Fast and Furious” gun investigation and what have you. Well, that fast gun investigation came to an end really fast and we’ve all forgotten about it, or maybe about to forget it really fast, too.

And of all the fine academic fraternities, it is the sciences, the most empirically-driven fraternity of all, which seems taxed with proving, or disproving, the ridiculous and the weird. Later, you are left wondering: don’t these geniuses have better things to do instead of proving whether staring at a woman’s breasts twice a day will prolong one’s life?

But sometimes, the sciences embark on some thought-provoking, but still awkward experiments.

Case in point, I once had the unique privilege to participate in a somewhat awkward scientific experiment. The idea of the experiment was to measure what is now termed The Pace of Life – the measure of how fast life is in a city. You know that feeling you get when you come back from abroad and you have this overwhelming realization that life is somehow slow in Malawi? This experiment was attempting to measure that very notion.

The experiment took place in 32 countries.  The methodology was simple. We had to secretly measure the time it took for pedestrians to walk 18 meters during rush hour. The results concluded that the Pace of Life had increased by an average of 10% globally since the early 1990s with China and Singapore registering expected significant increases.

And what of the Warm Heart of Africa? Well – the fastest country clocked about 11 seconds while the slowest country clocked about 31 seconds. Malawi was that slowest country.

It became official! Life was too slow in Malawi – it isn’t just a feeling, it is a proven scientific fact. An awkward scientific fact, but a fact no less.

As much as this was intellectually stimulating, the experiment raised some practical questions: Does it mean that we Malawians have too much time on our hands? Does it mean that we have too many people with too little work to do? Are we Malawians too relaxed?

But, most importantly, what does this mean for Malawi when its people are too relaxed?

The answer to this question is not far away. You just have to walk to your darling immigration office and see how throngs of people are treated. Or even just take an unguided tour of our beloved bureaucracies in some banks or government departments and see how long it takes to get things done. Or just look at our addiction for postponing deliberation of important matters by appointing sub-committees to deal with issues that the appointing committee was initially established to deal with.

We Malawians seem to love taking our time!

Our “relaxicity” permeates all levels of our society. It’s systemic and, sadly, infectious!

But is having a faster Pace of Life a better thing – a game changer?

In a world that exalts little sleep, more speed and more efficiency, is Malawi’s answer to her development challenges rooted in simply jacking- up her populace.

One conspicuous observation from the experiment was that, besides a faster Pace of Life being associated with more developed countries, there were significant behavioral traits that could not go unnoticed.

For example, citizens of these faster countries like the United States and Singapore were more likely to suffer from heart problems and also were also among the most unhelpful people in the world. Simply put, these faster countries displayed traits congruent to those of a social order that David Cameron, the current British Prime Minister, calls the Broken Society.

Is this the price for development? Must we lose the very things that makes us us in return for being fast talking insomniacs, absentee mothers and fathers chasing the American (not Malawian) dream and suicidal manic-depressives who can’t keep up with the Pace of Life? This is a price I am not willing to pay – I don’t know about you.

As much as being too fast a society brings its own social diseases, we must also accept that being a slow society brings its own and we must challenge ourselves to inquire whether we can bear the social cost for wanting to be “developed”.

Come to think of it – ever wondered why there is a growing number of Americans leaving the U.S.A to settle in Africa? Could it be they are seeking a slower pace of life?   Strange fact of life if that were the case – a strange fact in indeed!


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