Essential reading for a happier, healthier, more productive life. It is the unofficial handbook and bible of the Slow Movement. Of course not! I love speed. But faster is not always better. Being Slow means doing everything at the correct speed: quickly, slowly or whatever pace works best.
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Taking a long, languid stroll through the world of Dr. Seuss is not an option. It is too slow. I am Scrooge with a stopwatch, obsessed with saving every last scrap of time, a minute here, a few seconds there.
Speed, with the sensory rush it gives, is one strategy for distraction. You decide how fast you have to go in any given context. If today I want to go fast, I go fast; if tomorrow I want to go slow, I go slow. What we are fighting for is the right to determine our own tempos. The toll taken by the hurry-up culture is well documented.
We are driving the planet and ourselves towards burnout. We are so time-poor and time-sick that we neglect our friends, families and partners. We barely know how to enjoy things any more because we are always looking ahead to the next thing. Much of the food we eat is bland and unhealthy. With our children caught up in the same hailstorm of hurry, the future looks bleak. We all belong to the same cult of speed. In the final stages before burnout, people often speed up to avoid confronting their unhappiness.
When we rush, we skim the surface, and fail to make real connections with the world or other people. To road rage, air rage, shopping rage, relationship rage, office rage, vacation rage, gym rage. Thanks to speed, we live in the age of rage.
Then, after a few minutes, it feels routine. Pull onto a slip road, brake to 30 mph and the lower speed seems teeth-gnashingly slow. Velocitization fuels a constant need for more speed. And to do that, we need to start at the very beginning, by looking at our relationship with time itself.
Ancient civilizations used calendars to work out when to plant and harvest crops. Right from the start, though, timekeeping proved to be a double-edged sword. On the upside, scheduling can make anyone, from peasant farmer to software engineer, more efficient. Yet as soon as we start to parcel up time, the tables turn, and time takes over. We become slaves to the schedule. Schedules give us deadlines, and deadlines, by their very nature, give us a reason to rush.
As an Italian proverb puts it: Man measures time, and time measures man. But it was not until the late nineteenth century that the creation of standard time unlocked its full potential. Inspired by the technological breakthroughs of the latter s, he predicted that man would soon work no more than four hours a week. People were expected to think faster, work faster, talk faster, read faster, write faster, eat faster, move faster.
As well as glittering careers, we want to take art courses, work out at the gym, read the newspaper and every book on the bestseller list, eat out with friends, go clubbing, play sports, watch hours of television, listen to music, spend time with the family, buy all the newest fashions and gadgets, go to the cinema, enjoy intimacy and great sex with our partners, holiday in far-flung locations and maybe even do some meaningful volunteer work.
The result is a gnawing disconnect between what we want from life and what we can realistically have, which feeds the sense that there is never enough time. In some philosophical traditions—Chinese, Hindu and Buddhist, to name three—time is cyclical. It is constantly around us, renewing itself, like the air we breathe. In the Western tradition, time is linear, an arrow flying remorselessly from A to B.
It is a finite, and therefore precious, resource. Christianity piles on pressure to put every moment to good use. The Benedictine monks kept a tight schedule because they believed the devil would find work for idle hands to do.
They are shorthand for ways of being, or philosophies of life. Fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed, superficial, impatient, active, quantity-over-quality. Slow is the opposite: calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, patient, reflective, quality-over-quantity. It is about making real and meaningful connections—with people, culture, work, food, everything.
The paradox is that Slow does not always mean slow. It is also possible to do things quickly while maintaining a Slow frame of mind. Speed has helped to remake our world in ways that are wonderful and liberating. Who wants to live without the Internet or jet travel? The problem is that our love of speed, our obsession with doing more and more in less and less time, has gone too far; it has turned into an addiction, a kind of idolatry.
Even when speed starts to backfire, we invoke the go-faster gospel. Falling behind at work? Get a quicker Internet connection.
No time for that novel you got at Christmas? Learn to speed-read. Diet not working? Try liposuction. Too busy to cook? Buy a microwave. And yet some things cannot, should not, be sped up. They take time; they need slowness. When you accelerate things that should not be accelerated, when you forget how to slow down, there is a price to pay. Nor is it a Luddite attempt to drag the whole planet back to some pre-industrial utopia.
Proponents of both believe that turbo-capitalism offers a one-way ticket to burnout, for the planet and the people living on it. They claim we can live better if we consume, manufacture and work at a more reasonable pace. In common with moderate anti-globalizers, however, Slow activists are not out to destroy the capitalist system.
Rather, they seek to give it a human face. Each person, act, moment has its own eigenzeit. Some people are content to live at a speed that would send the rest of us to an early grave.
We all must have the right to choose the pace that makes us happy. The Slow movement is on the march. Instead of doing everything faster, many people are decelerating, and finding that Slowness helps them to live, work, think and play better.
But is the Slow movement really a movement? It certainly has all the ingredients that academics look for—popular sympathy, a blueprint for a new way of life, grassroots action. True, the Slow movement has no formal structure, and still suffers from low brand recognition. Many people slow down—working fewer hours, say, or finding time to cook—without feeling part of a global crusade. Yet every act of deceleration is grist to the mill. Be fast when it makes sense to be fast, and be slow when slowness is called for.
The secret is balance: instead of doing everything faster, do everything at the right speed. Sometimes fast. Sometimes slow. Sometimes somewhere in between. Being Slow means never rushing, never striving to save time just for the sake of it. It means remaining calm and unflustered even when circumstances force us to speed up. If we approach it in a Slow spirit—doing fewer things, with less hurry—it can give us the flexibility we need to decelerate … Slower, it turns out, often means better—better health, better work, better business, better family life, better exercise, better cuisine and better sex.
Whatever its effect on the economic balance sheet, the Slow philosophy delivers the things that really make us happy: good health, a thriving environment, strong communities and relationships, freedom from perpetual hurry. It has no central headquarters or website, no single leader, no political party to carry its message. Many people decide to slow down without ever feeling part of a cultural trend, let alone a global crusade. What matters, though, is that a growing minority is choosing slowness over speed.
Every act of deceleration gives another push to the Slow movement. The counterculture earthquake of the s inspired millions to slow down and live more simply. A similar philosophy gave birth to the Voluntary Simplicity movement. In the late s, the New York—based Trends Research Institute identified a phenomenon known as downshifting , which means swapping a high-pressure, high-earning, high-tempo lifestyle for a more relaxed, less consumerist existence.
Unlike decelerators from the hippie generation, downshifters are driven less by political or environmental scruples than by the desire to lead more rewarding lives.
They are willing to forgo money in return for time and slowness. To many locals, this was one restaurant too far: the barbarians were inside the gates and something had to be done. To roll back the fast-food tsunami sweeping across the planet, Carlo Petrini, a charismatic culinary writer, launched Slow Food.
Our defence should begin at the table with Slow Food. We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Food.
In Praise of Slow
How to Slow Down with “In Praise of Slowness” by Carl Honoré (+ Infographic)