Rush Hour

Speed Racers

Clearly, such elevation of consumer demands begs renewed consideration of just who exactly these consumers are in the first place--and why are they so speed-happy? Perhaps a little historical perspective is in order. Of course, we're talking about an unprecedented pace of life born from the fruits of recent technological advances--but we're also talking about a society that has always subscribed to the point of view that faster is better.

"I don't see this so much in other societies," Lewis says. "The Germans, the Japanese, the French and so on are not hooked on speed--or change. But the American way is the idea that things will always get better."

And, like it or not, getting better is irrevocably linked to getting faster. "Clearly, the United States is on the leading edge of [the quicker-is-better revolution]," agrees McKenna. "The trend is toward more and more of this sit back and push a button and get whatever you want. The TV remote control, for example, will [some day] also be a computer so if you see a product [you like], you'll simply push a button and order it. This isn't Buck Rogers; this isn't 20 years from now. This is within the next five years."

Not for a moment, moreover, should you entertain thoughts of going against the tide. "Imagine making televisions without remote controls today--nobody would buy them," McKenna contends. "And yet, what we're asking the consumer to do is get up and walk perhaps 10 feet across the room and push a button or turn a knob. But we've become so accustomed [to not doing this] that we won't buy such a TV set."

Or sit through double features at a movie theater. Or opt for bank teller service instead of ATMs. Or forsake the speedier microwave in favor of the good old-fashioned oven. "We are gradually becoming so adapted and accustomed to this real-time technology that it's changing us in subtle ways," McKenna concludes. "We're not even conscious of it."

But business owners, in particular, must tune in to this changing frequency.

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This article was originally published in the February 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Rush Hour.

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