AMERICA LEADS the world at producing micro-second managers who drive miles out of their way to avoid traffic lights, spend their days faxing and car-phoning, schedule "quality" family time and complain that they can never get a minute for themselves.
Much of the nation suffers a debilitating form of time distortion: A frantic state of mind which comes from speeding through life, says Baltimorean Nina Tassi in her book "Urgency Addiction: How to Slow Down Without Sacrificing Success" (Taylor Publishing, $18.95).
She describes urgency addicts as constantly pressured by time. They check the clock constantly. They walk fast wherever they go. They have a short attention span, seemingly unable to concentrate on the subject at hand. They tend to acquiesce to all time demands at work, although they may have already given the office more hours than seem reasonable.
"Urgency addiction isn't a personality trait as much as it is a social phenomenon," Tassi says. "It stems from the pace of life we've set for ourselves in economic terms. I see the computer as the super clock grinding out the pace at which our economic life is being lived.
"Going back to the merger-mania of the '80s, there was the drive to increase profits through mergers and acquisitions and shorten the timelines for profits. Nobody thinks in term of long-range profits any more. That's had the effect of speeding up workers' lives."
She lists the human cost of time compression:
* Losing the ability to enjoy the present because you are too busy concentrating on upcoming tasks.
* Postponing the fulfillment of various desires indefinitely.
* Sacrificing serendipity.
* Forfeiting the right to determine the pace of your own life.
And Tassi says time management techniques and timesavers make the situation worse.
A journalist and former college administrator, Tassi began researching her book when she realized her own life as a working mother of three had achieved a perpetual overload of activities which left her and her husband feeling trapped in a cycle of exhaustion and guilt.
The methods she used to recapture her own time form the basis of the book. She also examines various facets of time distortion, such as the misconception that working faster will give you more control over your life.
Although America has always been time-conscious -- Remember Ben Franklin's "Time is Money"? -- Tassi believes the culture has become obsessed by it. Today's fast-track workers expect to succeed by the time they are 30, instead of the ripe old age of 40.
"It used to be that if you changed jobs too often you were unstable," Tassi says. "Now if you stay more than two years at one job, people may think, 'What's the matter? Aren't you going up the ladder? You must not be a fast-track person.'"
She believes time distortion is created, in part, by living in a culture which is geared to feed millions of pieces of advertising and information to people every day. This fracturing of our daily experience contributes to our sense of time urgency.
"Whole generations have been raised on the television which is now broken up into even tinier and tinier time fragments . . . If, from a very young age, you are trained into a lifestyle in which you have to have constant moving images, that produces a sense of urgency. It produces a desire for the next image and the next image and the next image. Time urgency is a reaction which comes from a completely passive state."
And a society composed primarily of passive consumers -- compared to action-taking citizens -- tends to be blown through life by various market forces, she says.
Tassi suggests to start regaining your time by wresting control from some of the data deliverers.
"Part of this whole passive-reactiveness that people feel is the feeling you have to read every piece of paper, every piece of mail that comes across your desk. You don't. You may feel you've got to answer the phone every time it rings. You don't.
"You need to make the first decision about what you need to know. Don't let the computer or the Xerox machine decide."
You may notice immediate savings in impatience, frustration, perhaps even hostility.
"One of the biggest things I learned from this study is that emotional energy consumes a lot of time," Tassi says.