I’m frequently criticized for my speed, but speed is a wonderful, glorious thing and it’s rightfully celebrated in all walks of life. It’s no frivolous endeavor, but fundamental to success in nature – when it comes to prey versus hunter, the faster survives and the slower does not. Humans choose to measure their speed against each other in competition, not just for fun, but because we’re programmed as a species to want to be faster than the next guy. Or sabre-tooth tiger. We strive to be the fastest runners, racers, rowers and riders because the rewards are there. And history proves it: when humans broke through their natural speed limit they changed the planet – and beyond.
Footprint evidence suggests 20,000-year-old Australian aboriginals could chase food at 20 mph, and until 5,000 years ago this was the fastest a Homo sapiens had traveled. The domestication of the horse doubled our top speed, but then it took until the end of the 19th century for a steam train to double it again.
But the 20th century saw human speed accelerate at an unthinkable rate. In 1947 Chuck Yeager became the first human to travel faster than his shouts of joy, and in 1969 three astronauts in the Apollo 10 command module hit nearly 25,000 mph re-entering Earth’s atmosphere. It remains the fastest that any human has ever traveled (that we know of). It’s no coincidence that the century that saw humans make unprecedented progress was the same that saw humans travel at unprecedented speed.
Today, we wouldn’t know what to do without speed. We’ve taken it for granted that we can get anywhere on the planet within 24 hours. We’ve grown accustomed to it. Without speed we wouldn’t have the food we eat or the clothes we wear.
But speed can be addictive in other ways. For millions the sensation of speed – be it on a bike, in a car, on a rollercoaster, flying a plane or jumping out of one – generates an almighty burst of dopamine, the brain’s “reward” drug. This pats us on the back for taking a risk and surviving, and gives us an incentive to do it again. People who enjoy riding fast motorcycles aren’t adrenaline junkies – they’re dopamine fiends.
Yes, speed has a time and a place and must be handled responsibly, but neither the natural quest for more nor the sheer thrill it generates are selfish, freakish or irresponsible. They’re inescapable. Without a biological incentive to take risks, we would have died out thousands of years ago. We wouldn’t have stepped out of the cave, rubbed two sticks together, jumped on a horse, flown the Atlantic or developed the BMW S1000RR.
So, the world is clearly a better place for humans’ desire, discovery and mastery of speed. I’d rather not live than be trapped in a world restricted to jogging pace. I am hopelessly, desperately addicted to speed, and make no apologies for it.
My name is Justin Ames and I am a speedophile.