The 21st Century life is fast-paced. We travel on bullet trains and jets. News comes to us at the speed of light. And with the help of cell phones, instant messaging, high-speed Internet and of course, fast food, most people rush through the day, trying to do more in less and less time. But not everyone. Some people are trying to slow down, and instead of racing through life, actually experience it.
Journalist Carl Honoré admits that not long ago his life was a breathless race with time. "In the old days, when I was a 'speedaholic,' if you like, my whole life was just one long list of things to do," he says.
To finish all those tasks, day after day, Mr. Honoré says he became obsessed with saving time wherever he could… a minute here, a few seconds there. And, he says, he was not alone. "We're constantly racing just to keep up. And even when we find an empty hole in our diary nowadays, we don't rejoice and think, 'Ah, there is some empty time,' he says. "We panic and rush to fill it up with something more."
Mr. Honoré says people usually don't realize that their whole life has turned into an exercise in 'hurry up' until they get a wake up call… and something stops them in their tracks.
"For some, it's an illness. You have a breakdown or your body just gives in because you're going too fast," he says. "For other people, a relationship goes up in smoke, they haven't had time to listen to or be with the other person."
Mr. Honoré's wake up call came three years ago when he began reading bedtime stories to his 3-year-old son. "I'd go into his room at the end of the night and I just couldn't slow down. I'd be speed-reading The Cat in the Hat, which is ridiculous," the journalist recalls. "I heard about a series of books called One-Minute Bedtime Stories, which is a horrible idea, but my first reaction was, 'What a great idea, I must get some.' That's when I caught myself, and I just thought 'No, this has gone too far.'"
In his book, In Praise of Slowness, Carl Honoré tries to discover why modern life has become so accelerated. "The usual suspects come to mind," he says. "You think of urbanization, cities making people faster, technology, the work place, consumerism. But I think if you dig deeper, you get to the way we think about time itself, especially in the West where time is seen as linear rather than circular. It's always draining away from us. Time is money. You use it or lose it."
To improve the quality of life, Mr. Honoré says, people need to embrace what he calls 'the philosophy of slow.' "I think that one of the cultural assumptions we make nowadays is that slow is bad and that slowing down means being lazy, or unproductive or giving up. But the opposite is true," he says. "Now, even in this high-tech 24/7 technology-drenched society, we need moments of slowness. When you work more slowly you actually work better your productivity goes up. Sometimes you have to go fast at work. People need to do things at the right speed, they need to re-learn the lost art of shifting gears."
The philosophy of slow is a worldwide phenomenon, and a variety of slow movements are redefining our relationship with time. One of those groups is Slow Food. "The organization has always been against the spread of the fast food culture around the world," says Makale Faber spokeswoman for its U.S chapter.
"It's more than the food. We educate consumers about how foods are related to culture," she says. "It's about this industrial life, which has changed the culture of many work places. People are multi-tasking, doing several jobs at once, not being able to take time to have lunch during their workday or vacations."
Slow Food now has 13,000 members in the United States and more than 80,000 in 60 countries around the world. Other organizations in the movement focus on business, exercise or product design.
"The message of SlowLab is what we call 'slow design,' " says Carolyn Strauss, SlowLab director. "Slowness can come through the experiences of designed objects that shift people's perspective of the way that we experience and inhabit time and space. Slowness can come through the way that we approach the consumption of the environmental resources and very importantly -- to our organization -- the way that we experience well being as individuals and as communities."
One design that reflects slowness is a line of products called Broken White by Dutch industrial designer Simon Heidjens.
Ms. Strauss says the set of white ceramic dinner dishes "appear to be just white plates, bowls and mugs, but over the course of their use they begin to develop these very small cracks. As they continue to be used the cracks reveal themselves to be floral patterns, which you might find on your grandmother's china." She explains that that reminder of a family heirloom gives the buyer "a stronger attachment" to the china. "And you're less likely to dispose of them because they are actually carrying an expression of your relationship with them."
With the slow movement now spreading around the globe, In Praise of Slowness author Carl Honoré says he hopes the world's hurry-up, impatient lifestyle will start to relax. However, he acknowledges that slowing down is not something people can do quickly… and, with all the pressure on us to go even faster, it's not always easy. But, he says, it's worth the effort..