We live in a time when things are moving so fast that many of us have difficulty living our lives in more full and meaningful ways. We find it almost impossible to slow down, mainly because there is a cultural taboo against it.
In contemporary society, the expression “slowing down” implies laziness, inertia, or slacking off on the part of the individual who chooses to decelerate.
Words such as “fast” and “slow” are powerful connotations projecting societal values. Take, for example, a person who is fast; he/she is presumed to be someone who can accomplish more in less time.
The faster one can produce, the further ahead he or she can get in their profession. On the other hand, a person who is habitually slow accomplishes less and in all likelihood won’t be successful in life.
It is against contemporary capitalism that extols the virtues of speed, productivity, and accumulation of wealth that we find it increasingly difficult to practice what Gandhi believed: “there is more to life than increasing its speed.”
We seldom ponder the human cost of capitalism. In the relentless pursuit of speed, efficiency, and material possessions we end up spending inordinate amounts of time in modern-day “sweat shops,” which frequently make us error prone, angry, depressed, and ill.
Millions all over the world now pop pills to seek relief from stress, insomnia, hypertension, migraines, gastrointestinal problems, to name but a few, all brought on by unhealthy working practices. Even young people in 30s are now experiencing high burnout from this frenzied world of work.
The work ethic of high speed and ruthless efficiency probably has had the worst impact in Japan where the locals have a word in Japanese for death by overwork, which is called karoshi.
Although the Japanese Government recently reported that there have been 143 victims of karoshi, many watch groups have put the death toll from overwork in Japan in the thousands.
In order to keep up with the fast paced world of business, some people even consume more than coffee just to survive. Potent stimulants like amphetamines have become quite popular among many white-collar professionals in the Western business world.
They use these stimulants to get a euphoric feeling and alertness that usually lasts for most of one’s workday. The side effects of amphetamines are several.
They are very addictive and users of this stimulant come down with acute depression, anxiety and violent behavior. The contemporary work culture of haste has also affected our mental and emotional health.
In 1982, Larry Dossey, an American physician, coined the term “time-sickness” to explain the obsessive concern we have about time, which we think is always fleeting; there isn’t enough of it. So, we need to go faster to keep up. If we use Dossey’s term, then quite possibly most of the whole world is suffering from time sickness.
Many of us have become so obsessed about losing time that we desperately try to save every last scrap of it in order to get our things accomplished. In the recent past, Klaus Schwab, founder and president of World Economic Forum, emphasized in the most blunt terms the importance of speed in contemporary societies: “We are moving from a world in which the big eat the small to one in which the fast eat the slow.”
Everywhere we go we find a mad race against the clock. According to the British psychologist, Guy Claxton, living a life of acceleration has become second nature to us. Claxton is of the opinion that “we have developed an inner psychology of speed, of saving time and maximizing efficiency, which is getting stronger by the day.”
Living in a world of speed has rendered our lives superficial in several important ways. When we are in haste, we can only focus at a surface level without having the time to go deep.
We are unable to make genuine connections with either people or the world around us. We are in such a hurry that we often forget to fully appreciate the food we are eating or the people with whom we are interacting, or places we are visiting.
We are either texting, looking at the screen on our smart phones, or busy taking selfies or other pictures to post immediately on social media.
In these busy, bustling times, we seem to have lost the art of taking it slow by shutting out all the background noise and distractions and simply enjoying the stillness of the moment.
In his novella, Slowness, Milan Kundera has warned us in no uncertain terms about the downside of leading a fast life: “When things happen too fast, nobody can be certain about anything, about anything at all, not even about himself.”
The Slow Movement, which is about promoting slowing down the pace of life, has started in several cities, especially in Western Europe.
This movement was started in in 1986 by Carlo Petrini who protested against the opening of a McDonald’s restaurant in Piazza di Spagna in Rome. Petrini’s protest sparked the creation of the slow food movement.
Over time, the slow food movement became an important part of the subculture, which impacted several important facets of human life. In 2004, Carl Honore´ wrote his bestselling non-fiction, In Praise of Slowness, where he describes the Slow Movement thus:
“The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything in a snail’s pace. Nor is it a Luddite attempt to drag the whole planet back to some pre-industrial utopia. On the contrary, the movement is made up of people like you and me, people who want to live better in a fast-paced, modern world. This is why the Slow philosophy can be summed up in a single word: balance. Be 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 – the right speed.”
The Slow Movement is not organized by any single group. People who are genuinely interested in expanding the movement beyond Europe run the movement. Now the popularity of this movement can be seen in the United States, Australia and even in Japan. The Slow Movement has had a big impact in several areas of our lives such as cinema, food, living style, travel, and much more.
1. Cinema: Slow films characteristically consist of resistance to rapid movements and intense emotion, and devotion to realism. This is accomplished by long takes, slow camera movements, unconventional use of music and sparse editing.
2. Food: Slow Movement is completely opposed to the idea of fast food. Under Slow Movement, food is produced organically and prepared in traditional ways all for the promotion of good health and complete enjoyment. The slow food needs to be consumed in a leisurely way savoring every morsel.
3. Living style: This involves making conscious decisions about structuring one’s life to give a sense of meaning and fulfillment. It emphasizes quality rather than quantity.
4. Travel: Slow travel is not about traveling from one location to another. It is about immersing oneself in the cultural milieu of that place. It involves staying in the same place for a while to establish meaningful connections with that place and its people. The mantra is taking one’s time to soak in the experience without the slightest hurry in the world.
The Slow Movement is about slowing down to savor what we eat, how we travel, how we consume, how we produce and, most importantly, how we live.
The Slow Movement exhorts us to practice stillness, contemplate, relax, spend quality time with family and friends and let our minds and interactions wander without the constraints of time.
While I do not expect Indian cities to become centers of Slow Movement as we are witnessing in many cities of the Western world, we can certainly embrace many of the values that are espoused by the Slow Movement either on an individual level or collectively as a family. Some of these lessons include:
1. Stop rushing through life so fast that we forget who we are.
2. Stop using turbo-speed in everything that we do. Use judgment when it’s okay to apply speed and when it’s not.
3. Stop doing everything all at once and, instead, become more present and mindful.
4. Slow down to locate the energy in us to make meaningful connections with the world we live in.
Now is the time to decide what kind of a life we want for ourselves — a life of maddening speed, which is aggressive, controlling, superficial, stressed, and impatient, or a life that can be calm, receptive, intuitive, patient, reflective, helping us establish meaningful connections with work, people, culture, and food — pretty much everything.
The choice is clearly ours. In the words of the former Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, we can learn how to “… govern the clock, not be governed by it.”
The writer is professor of communication studies at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles.