I was going to read Carl Honoré’s groundbreaking 2004 book, In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed, in preparation for this post, but given my jam-packed life that never seems to have a moment to spare, I couldn’t possibly afford the time. So I did the next best thing: I watched the (strictly time-controlled, 16-minute) TED talk he presented on the subject 10 years ago.
Ten years, I might add, that, if you’re anything like me, seem to have zoomed by with inordinate, inexplicable, “Now where were we?” speed.
But enough of the speed-tinged ironies about slowness now, for we are here to address a serious point: In 2015, in an era of unprecedented technological prowess, armed and awash with every time-saving tech device thus far imagined by the finest scientific and engineering minds, half a century after futurists were predicting we would by now be enjoying lives of near constant leisure, we seem zoomier and crazier-paced than ever.
And so the question occurs: Are we living completely wrong?
Have we learned nothing from the ravages of the Organization Man, the Mad Men, the go-go Tom Peters School of work-and-network-and-innovate-and-restructure-constantly because someone in China or Japan or Belarus is ready to beat your brains out by beating your product idea to market?
Honoré and an entire cohort of early ’00s “slow” activists noted the alarming trend of humans seeming to take a perverse pride in “speed” everything: dialing, dating, eating, even “speed yoga,” an oxymoron of awful and epic proportions.
“We’re marinated in a culture of speed,” he told his TED audience. “We live in a world stuck in fast-forward.” Then he quoted the actress and author Carrie Fischer: “These days, even instant gratification takes too long.”
Was it always like this?
Well, no. Through most of our history, lives have been, to quote Thomas Hobbes (a mainstay on this blog, if you haven’t noticed), “nasty, brutish and short.”
And then there is the movement to speed up major league baseball games, for fear that the 20-and-30-somethings crucial to the game’s future appeal will run out of fantasy games to play on their smartphones in between pitches and the change of innings in the real game on the field. It is difficult to overstate the wrong-headedness of this idea…
But the one tiny saving grace of those lives: the seasons and the weather and the lack of electricity and speedy transportation and other technologies were self-limiting factors that kept the scope of primitive humanity’s activity and the passage of time and their experience of it at a decidedly more measured pace.
The truly bitter irony is that every labor-saving device we have developed over the past 500 years has served only to become life-speeding, increasing human work efficiency and productivity, while doing nothing to get us off the infernal treadmill of work-work-work-go-go-go. Quite the contrary, actually.
The exceptions are perhaps the extremely poor, who have simply given up on the whole get-out-there-and-accomplish-something materialist dream, and the extremely rich, who have lived it, realized its ultimate poverty, and can’t figure out what else to do now, except go to the country club to drink and play golf and maybe run for president. (Hello, Donald Trump…)
As for everyone else: faster and faster we go, where this infernal treadmill stops, nobody knows.
More irony: Honoré’s TED talk was notable for how he seemed to race through the thing, barely drawing a breath while swigging a few gulps of water and barreling ahead in praise of the slow. Multiple commenters noted as much, with several musing along the lines of, “I couldn’t watch this; it wore me out after a few minutes.”
Honoré wasn’t above chiding himself on the whole matter either, noting he got a speeding ticket one time on the way to a “slow” event in Italy. (Italy! Where the prevailing understanding is there are no speed limits.)
And then there is the movement to speed up major league baseball games, for fear that the 20-and-30-somethings crucial to the game’s future appeal will run out of fantasy games to play on their smartphones in between pitches and the change of innings in the real game on the field.
It is difficult to overstate the wrong-headedness of this idea, but let me just say that any activity that has me out in the fresh air watching extremely skilled athletes do remarkable things while I sip beer and crack peanuts and make idle chatter with my friends and family or newfound pals in the surrounding seats on a lazy summer afternoon or evening is not likely to be suffering from the problem of me wanting to get the hell out of there as soon as possible.
My even more favorite sport of track, same problem: The crowds have waned over decades now, so one (insane) approach to bringing them back in recent years has been to allow virtually zero time between events on the track.
This means that the marvelous three-ring circus of track and field—watch a race over there, switch to a discus throw yonder and a pole vault off to the side, then check back in on the second lap of the race while discussing with your crony the tactics of the guy in fourth place (all, of course, while sipping beer and cracking peanuts) is a bygone pleasure from the past.
Now, the last place finisher in one race is still huffing down the final straightaway to obligatory clapping from compassionate fans while race officials are skooching the next race participants out there for their last-second, strictly time-controlled warmups.
Where will we all be rushing to with the shorter baseball games and track meets: home to watch TV? Or maybe to have slow sex inspired by all the erotically charged scenes of grown men spitting sunflower seeds and adjusting their cups?
Of course sex had to come into any discussion of “slow.” (!) Not that all sex need be slow, whatever Honoré said about “getting more bang for your buck” by easing back on the pace.
(Did he really say “more bang for your buck?” Yes, he did—you can watch the tape yourself here. Did the audience laugh? No, the audience did not laugh…)
There are times when fast, hard sex has just the right illicit, gotta-have-it-and-gotta-have-it-now quality. But on balance, the virtues of slow reveal themselves perhaps more in sex than anywhere else, although eating slowly can sometimes be just as scintillating, especially as prelude to slow sex.
Followed by long slow sleep where you hurry not for anything, not even in your dreams.
Then you “get up and do it again” in the morning, as Jackson Browne instructed us in the long-ago.
The baseball game or track meet, I mean.
The Pointer Sisters, oh yeah! Oh yeah…
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