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Pop!Tech: Slowing down with Carl Honoré

Carl Honoré talks pretty fast for a man focused on slowing down. He starts with an (apocryphal, I hope) story about a man who chooses to divorce his wife after discovering her checking her email on her Blackberry while he was making love with her. While this is certainly a commentary on his need to improve his technique, it’s also a refernce to the fact that the world is moving very quickly.

“Every day is a dash to the finish line,” Honoré tells us. We speedwalk, speed date, and now we speed network – “You can make 100 meaningful new business contacts in 90 minutes.” There’s a
gym near his house in London that offers a course in speed yoga – get all the relaxation you need in twenty minutes. It gets worse – he knows of a person in the US who’s attended a drive-through funeral.

“You’ve got 392 friends on Facebook – when’s the last time you spent an afternoon in the park with one of them?” Honoré discovered himself speed-reading Snow White to his son as a bedtime story – his son realized he was cutting lines out of the story and began fighting with him. “Why are there only three dwarves tonight, daddy?” Honoré found an article in a newspaper on one minute bedtime stories and was briefly thrilled. He found himself wondering, “Am I prepared to fob off my son with a sound bite at the end of the day?”

There’s a slow movement, Honoré tells us, “more people slowing down in every walk of life.” They’re discovering that slowing down judiciously helps them work, play and live better. It’s an “international slow movement, a slow revolution.”

Some of the movement comes from the slow food movement, a response not only to fast food but to
“dining al desko”. He tells us that eating fast means we lose nutrition, health, pleasure, and the social connection that comes from eating together. While the movement began in Italy, it’s expanded to the US, “where it’s influential and militant.” Some of the folks involved with this movement have tried to start “slow cities”, places that understand that slow is important.

For years, it was considered fringe to engage in slow activities like yoga or tai chi. But now athletes in elite sports are engaging in yoga, because it works, giving them both strength and inner calm.

Sex is an area where people need to learn to slow down. A survey discovered that “1 in 5 people are willing to break way from sex to take an email or a phonecall,” a statistic illustrated, he tells us, by Paris Hilton in her sex video, who “breaks off her ministrations” to take a phonecall. Magazines have stories that advertise “bring her to orgasm in 30 seconds,” inviting you to make love with a stopwatch. He points out that men often want to know where this magazine was, while women never do. “You need to slow down to let your body warm up, to get the psychological, spiritual connections” from lovemaking.

Children – even grown children – need to slow down. Harvard sent a letter to all its freshmen, encouraging them to both “reach for the stars” but also to avoid getting overscheduled. The title of the document was “slow down.”

Honoré argues that “working less can make you work better.” Scandanavian companies work schedules that would most Americans terribly jealous, but they work very efficiently and build world-beating companies like Nokia. Even American companies are finding ways to force their employees to take vacations. To engage in sorts of synthetic, complex thinking, employees need to find a way to slow down and chill out. They also need to turn things off. A Hewlett Packard study, he tells us, has found that “the constant barrage of electronic interuptions causes our IQ to fall 10 points in a day,” about twice the effect of smoking marijuana. We think that being the first to answer every call makes us the king of business, “but actually is turning us into Cheech and Chong.”

It would be a mistake to replace an obsessive focus on speed with an obsessive focus on slowness. What we need is not militant slowness, but better flexibility in switching gears. Honoré tells us he’s a “rehabilitated speedaholic,” who now is able to spend enough time with his son that he gets real conversations with him. “And the stories all have seven dwarves these days.”

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