A snail's pace

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 In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed
Taking our time

SINCE LIFE became a thing that was divisible into set intervals, the way we measure time has reflected the way we measure ourselves.

Once, time was a general thing, somewhat remote to our daily motions: it manifested in seasons, crop cycles, dawn and dusk, the aging of a body or a face.

And then time moved in with us to stay. It became the alarm-clock blare that begins our mornings and the wristwatch that hurries us through our days. As a culture, we make more and more compromises to accommodate the pressures of time. We take shortcuts; we rush; we multitask; we time-manage. We are driven faster and faster, pursuing the myth of getting ahead, but find we can barely keep up.

In In Praise of Slow, Carl Honoré asserts that our contemporary culture has developed an insatiable appetite for speed, which he traces convincingly back through a long legacy that began with the first calendar (around 3100 BCE), and proliferated with the Industrial Revolution.

There is an implicit connection between capitalism and obsession with speed: as workers began to be paid by hour worked rather than product or service rendered, and Benjamin Franklin stated famously and fatefully, âeoeTime is money,âe our world took a turn. Time has become the currency and capital virtue of the twenty-first century. In the modern workplace, where every minute on the clock means diminished profit margins, speed has acquired an unnatural priority over community and social welfare; employee health, security and safety; corporate accountability; and ecological sustainability.

Honoré argues that this psychology has now spread beyond the workplace, supplanting other values and causing us to approach everything with the notion that faster is better. We visit less speed-obsessed countries for holidays, to restore to our minds and bodies all that speed has cost us, but often these are the very countries we trivialize as somehow less advanced, so faithful we are to the speed-equals-success equation.

Our hurry is taking its toll: across the industrialized world, people's overall health has suffered from poor eating and exercise choices influenced by paucity of time. Activities that were never meant to be compromised by rush, like lovemaking and childrearing, are becoming hurried because we have lost the ability to slow down. The capitalist world has adjusted to a tempo of life that is unnatural. Most of the joyful and meaningful things in life âe" art, leisure, human relations of all kinds âe" are damaged by hurry. âeoeDoing two things at once seems so clever, so efficient, so modern,âe Honoré writes. âeoeAnd yet what it often means is doing two things not very well.âe


Honoré's book is not about the cult of Fast, but about the counterculture of Slow. According to Honoré, a spontaneous resistance is rising; people are pausing in their kitchens, in their offices, in their bedrooms and realizing that they are tired of Fast. This cognizance is not necessarily part of a conscious unified movement, more like the result of a collective burnout.

The Slow revolution rejects the entire Fast value system, preferring the authentic over the superficial, the patient over the aggressive, the permanent over the disposable, pleasure over profit. Proponents of Slow do not believe that Fast is the wrong speed, but that it is not the right speed for everything: âeoeBe fast when it makes sense to be fast, and be slow when slowness is called for. Seek to live at what musicians call the tempo giusto âe" the right speed.âe

Over the course of the book, Honoré examines the many facets of the overall trend he calls the Slow movement, from slow food to slow cities (more than 30 cities in Italy and elsewhere have taken the slow-city pledge), from yoga to Tantra, from the politics of employee scheduling to the reappropriation of leisure. Honoré is an effective tour guide through the world of Slow, being a tourist himself, a reformed product of the Fast world. As he infiltrates the numerous Slow subcultures, his anecdotal narrative counterbalances the occasionally repetitive quality of some of his observations about speed and its discontents.

The Slow subcultures are at varying points in their development, and Honoré's proposed connection between all of them in a macro-movement sometimes seems tenuous. He persistently asserts that the Slow movement is a call to arms, but that individual rebellion is enough, that each time we choose to prepare a meal from scratch instead of popping something in the microwave, we are falling into rank with a cohesive social revolution. The significance of these personal choices and individual movements, however, seems dubious, and their ultimate power to collectively affect a larger social change is uncertain.

Furthermore, there is a worrisome price tag attached to the Slow lifestyle. Honoré is quick to point out that many steps toward Slow life are equally available to all income brackets: fresh foods are generally cheaper than prepared foods; turning off the television is free, as is driving more slowly and making other choices to avoid actions that quicken our internal tempo and anxiety without really saving any significant quantity of time. But it is a particular and discernible class that signs up for yoga or tantra workshops, or makes the decision to reduce their working hours (despite Honoré's protests that cutting down working time ultimately saves costs incurred in transportation, meals out, childcare and so on). A single parent working two jobs is unlikely to have the luxury of considering whether he or she is managing time in the most fulfilling way.

Yet while a Slow world might be a long way off, what we may be seeing is the creation of a Slow lane âe" an alternative to the tyranny of speed, rather than a substitute. Fast has its place: it qualifies the slower times and makes them precious. Just as the slow lane makes travel in the fast lane possible and bearable. As a former dean of Harvard wrote in a speech to the school's ambitious, over-scheduled undergraduates, âeoeEmpty time is not a vacuum to be filled. It is the thing that enables the other things on your mind to be creatively rearranged, like the empty square in the four-by-four puzzle that makes it possible to move the other fifteen pieces around.âe

After all, there is a morbid terminus to our haste as we rush headlong toward the next event and the next and the next. It is one thing to prioritize: to hurry one thing for the sake of spending longer with another. But when we hurry all things we are no longer hurrying toward or for the sake of anything; effectively we are speeding toward our own deaths, the final margin of time. Does all this saving of time not amount, in the end, to the most shameful squandering of it?âe"Rebecca Silver Slayter

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