What is In Praise of Slow about?It’s about how the world got stuck in fast-forward and how more and more people everywhere are slowing down. In other words, it’s about the rise of the Slow Movement. In Praise of Slow is published in 30 languages and has been a bestseller in many countries. In October 2009, it was the inaugural selection for the new Huffington Post book club.
What is the Slow Movement?It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.
When was this Slow idea born?People have been defending the value of slowness for at least 200 years - think of the Romantics, or the Transcendentalists or even the hippies. But the idea of a Slow Movement which seeks to blend fast and slow to help people work, live and play better in the modern world is more recent. Born in Italy in the early 1990s the ****Slow Food movement helped recapture the word slow’ as something positive. But they concentrate on food. More recently Slow has become a universal label to explain the benefits of doing everything at the right speed: sex, work, education, exercise, etc.
Why do we need a Slow Movement now?It seems to me that we are moving towards an historical turning point. For at least 150 years everything has been getting faster and for the most part speed was doing us more good than harm in that time. But in recent years we’ve entered the phase of diminishing returns. Today we are addicted to speed, to cramming more and more into every minute. Every moment of the day feels like a race against the clock, a dash to a finish line that we never seem to reach. This roadrunner culture is taking a toll on everything from our health, diet and work to our communities, relationships and the environment. That is why the Slow Movement is taking off.
Have we reached the point of trying to accelerate the unacceleratable?Definitely. You can even do courses in Speed Yoga or Speed Meditation these days. All this technology connects us in ways that can be wonderful but it also tempts us into trying to hurry up relationships too. So on Facebook or MySpace you find people claiming to have 4,356 friends! The very idea of friendship is devalued. And maybe we’re also losing the ability to make friends: in Britain, a major survey found that between 1986 and 2006 the number of teenagers who say they have no best friend in whom to confide rose from under one in eight to nearly one in five. Or consider the phenomenon of Speed Dating, where singles gather at events where they get three minutes (sometimes less) each with 30 members of the opposite sex and have to choose who might be a suitable romantic partner. Actually, I read recently that in the latest version of Speed Dating the participants no longer even meet face to face (that’s too slow, you see). Instead, they get three minutes to appraise each other via email or instant messaging. A magazine in Britain even published an article recently on how to bring about an orgasm in 30 seconds! So even in the bedroom it’s On your marks, get set, go! Our speedaholism is out of control, and we all know it.
What are the tell-tale symptoms of living too fast?When you feel tired all the time and like you’re just going through the motions, getting through the many things on your To-Do list but not engaging with them deeply or enjoying them very much. You don’t remember things as vividly when you rush through them. You feel like you’re racing through your life instead of actually living it. Illnesses are often the body’s way of saying Enough already, slow down!
What inspired you to write In Praise of Slow?My life had become an endless race against the clock. I was always in a hurry, scrambling to save a minute here, a few seconds there. My wake-up call came when I found myself toying with the idea of buying a collection of One-Minute Bedtime Stories Snow White in 60 seconds. Suddenly it hit me: my rushaholism has got so out of hand that I’m even willing to speed up those precious moments with my children at the end of the day. There has to be a better way, I thought, because living in fast forward is not really living at all. That’s why I began investigating the possibility of slowing down.
How has the Slow Movement grown since In Praise of Slow was published?In leaps and bounds. Everywhere people are waking up to the folly of living in fast-forward and discovering that by slowing down judiciously they do everything better and enjoy everything more. When I first began researching my book, the search term slow movement turned up almost nothing. There was Slow Food but that was it. Today you get nearly 500,000 entries on Google under slow movement. And it’s not just yoga teachers and aromatherapists flying the flag of Slow; it’s business too. The corporate world is starting to realize that too much speed and hurry hurts the bottom line. A senior manager at IBM has even launched a slow email movement, urging people to unplug and make the most of email (and life) by using email less. And that’s IBM, not a meditation school. Many companies are waking up to the fact that staff are more productive and creative when they can shift down a gear or two during the workday that’s why you see a boom in chill-out rooms, on-site yoga and massage, and even napping pods in the workplace. The latest neuroscience shows that when people are in a relaxed, mellow state, the brain slips into a deeper, richer, more nuanced mode of thought. Psychologists actually call this Slow Thinking. Artists have always known that you cannot hurry the act of creation and increasingly businesses are realizing the same thing: that workers need moments to relax, unplug, be silent in order to be creative and productive.
Productivity is one thing, but what about pleasure?Pleasure is certainly a big gain from slowing down. Mae West once said that “Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly” and though she was probably talking about sex (did she ever talk about anything else?) it’s an observation that holds true across the board. We are obsessed with the destination and have lost the art of enjoying the journey. Everything has to be instant so we miss out on the joy of anticipation, of looking forward to things. We lose the pleasure of striving to make something happen. I think that anticipation is a key ingredient in pleasure of any kind. When we look forward to something, imagining how it will be, planning how to enjoy it, getting a little nervous maybe - when the thing actually happens the pleasure is more intense.
Does that mean the Slow Movement is anti-speed?No, absolutely not. I love speed. I like my Internet connection to be fast and I play two of the fastest sports around, ice-hockey and squash, in my spare time. I live in London, which is a city of volcanic energy, and I enjoy working to deadlines. Speed has its place in the modern world. Often you have to move quickly, particularly at work. The problem is that speed has become a way of life. We do everything in a rush. We are stuck in fast forward and that is unhealthy.
What is the Slow take on multitasking?That it’s usually a poor use of time. The latest neuro-scientific research suggests what most of us already suspect: that the human brain is not very good at multitasking. Sure there are a few simple or routine tasks we can perform at the same time, but as soon as you have to engage the brain, you really need to focus on one activity at a time. Much of what passes for multitasking is nothing of the sort: it is sequential toggling between activities. And the research suggests that this flitting back and forth is actually very unproductive: tasks can take more than twice as long to complete when performed in this way. That’s why that history essay takes your teenage daughter (with her IMs, cellphone, MySpace page, TV monitor, etc) three hours to write instead of 90 minutes. Hewlett Packard recently warned that the constant barrage of electronic interruptions causes IQ levels in the workplace to fall 10 points double the effect of smoking marijuana. In other words, being always on does not turn you into an uber-productive master of the universe; it turns you into Cheech and Chong or Ozzy Osbourne. Changing attitudes is hard because our culture is marinated in the notion that doing more things at once is somehow deeply modern, efficient and fulfilling. But change is possible. Once people understand the limits of the human brain, it should become easier to kick the multitasking habit. Some companies are starting to encourage staff to focus on one activity at a time and wall themselves off from the barrage of electronic interruptions whenever possible. This will take time because most of us are adrenaline-junkies. We need to wean ourselves off multitasking slowly. That means starting with maybe an hour a day focusing on a challenging intellectual task with the gadgets switched off. Or setting aside an afternoon when you perform every task in sequence rather than in overlapping fashion and then seeing how much more quickly and accurately you get your work done. I multi-task a lot less now and find that I am a lot more creative and efficient and I enjoy my life more because I’m more deeply engaged with everything I do.
How do Oriental disciplines like Chi Kung, yoga and meditation fit into the Slow revolution?They are completely in harmony with it. They teach us how to be comfortable with slowness. They retrain our bodies and minds and help shift us into a lower gear. This brings obvious physical benefits such as greater flexibility, strength and balance. But it also goes deeper than that. It can cultivate an inner calm that you take with you into the more hectic moments of the day - so that you keep your head while all around you are losing theirs. By slowing us down, these Oriental practices also give more depth and meaning to our lives. One of the key benefits of decelerating is that it gives us the time and tranquility to look inside ourselves, to listen to our hearts, to get in touch with our souls, to ask the big questions in life.
Which parts of the Slow revolution do you find most fascinating?That is a hard question because I find them all fascinating! The Slow philosophy is making inroads into every walk of life. There are movements for Slow Homes, Slow Management, Slow Leadership, Slow Libraries, Slow Research, Slow Sex, you name it. Lately I have been paying a lot of attention to the rise of Slow Travel. The fast approach to travel and tourism is taking a heavy toll. The environmental damage caused by our penchant for air travel is well documented, but it is just the start. When we travel in roadrunner mode, we miss the small details that make each place thrilling and unique. We lose the joy of the journey. And at the end of it all, when every box on our To Do list has been checked, we return home even more exhausted than when we left. That is why Slow Travel is gaining ground.
Slow Travel is about savouring the journey (traveling by train or barge or bicycle or foot rather than crammed into an airplane); taking time to engage and learn about the local culture; finding moments to switch off and relax; showing an interest in the effect our visit has on the locals and on the environment. Obviously we don’t live in an ideal world so sometimes we have to travel faster than we want or should. But at least we should seek wherever possible to take a Slow approach to travel. It will deliver more pleasure, stronger memories and more sustainability.
I am also very interested in the idea of Slow Design making products in a sustainable way, with high-calibre materials and real craftsmanship. The consumer culture has been producing cheap, disposable crap for so long. I think the next stage for capitalism will be for us to consume fewer things of higher quality.