The newspaper article seemed like the ideal win-win. One-minute bedtime stories: happy son hearing dad read to him, happy dad fitting his dutiful routine into a hectic lifestyle before rushing onto the next thing before sleep – again rushed by the early morning alarm clock.
But this chance skim reading of the article while waiting to board a flight to cram in yet another meeting proved to be something of a wake-up call in itself.
After months of doing battle with his little boy by skipping words, lines or even pages from his young son’s favourite book, The Cat in the Hat, Canadian journalist Carl Honoré recalls: ‘My first reflex was to say, “Hallelujah -- what a great idea! This is exactly what I’m looking for to speed up bedtime even more.”
‘But thankfully, a light bulb went on over my head, and my next reaction was very different, and I took a step back, and I thought: “Has it really come to this? Am I really in such a hurry that I’m prepared to fob off my son with a sound byte at the end of the day?”
‘And I put away the newspaper and I sat there, and I did something I hadn’t done for a long time -- which is I did nothing. I just thought, and I thought long and hard. And by the time I got off that plane, I’d decided I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to investigate this whole roadrunner culture, and what it was doing to me and to everyone else.’
Honoré went on to write the bestseller, In Praise of Slowness, celebrating the (fast!) growing international Slow Movement.
From Slow Food to Slow Cities, Slow TV to Slow Health and Fashion, the movement is gathering momentum around the world as people start to realise that not everything has a quick fix and by slowing down your pace of life, you actually achieve and benefit more.
Honoré said: ‘The world we live in now is a world stuck in fast-forward. A world obsessed with speed, with doing everything faster, with cramming more and more into less and less time. Every moment of the day feels like a race against the clock. And if you think about how we to try to make things better, what do we do? No, we speed them up, don’t we? So we used to dial; now we speed dial. We used to read; now we speed read. We used to walk; now we speed walk. And of course, we used to date and now we speed date.
‘In the headlong dash of daily life, we often lose sight of the damage that this roadrunner form of living does to us. We’re so marinated in the culture of speed that we almost fail to notice the toll it takes on every aspect of our lives -- on our health, our diet, our work, our relationships, the environment and our community.
‘We turn every moment of every day into a race to the finish line -- a finish line, incidentally, that we never reach. When I began looking around, that there is a global backlash against this culture that tells us that faster is always better, and that busier is best.
‘Right across the world, people are doing the unthinkable: they’re slowing down, and finding that, although conventional wisdom tells you that if you slow down, you’re road kill, the opposite turns out to be true: that by slowing do wn at the right moments, people find that they do everything better. They eat better; they exercise better; they work better; they live better.’
As screen legend Mae West famously observed: ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly’.
The Slow Food movement was the forerunner to this global phenomenon. It began in Italy with food journalist Carlo Petrini’s protest against the opening of a McDonald’s restaurant in Piazza di Spagna, Rome, in 1986, and has now spread to more than 50 countries.
The message is clear and simple – we get more pleasure (and health) from food when it is grown, cooked and eaten at a slower pace.
The dramatic rise over recent years in the popularity of farmers’ markets and support for locally grown produce, preferably organic, is testament to the impact and influence of the movement. It has entered the psyche of many a western shopper – even those until now unaware of its existence.
To be designated ‘Cittaslow,’ or ‘Slow City’ a town must pledge to meet a raft of strict criteria, including reducing air, noise, and light pollution; protecting water quality; promoting pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly infrastructure; conserving and enhancing historic buildings; and encouraging the support of local farmers and produce.
Cittaslow was also founded in Italy in October 1999, following a meeting organised by Paulo Saturnini, the mayor of Greve in Chianti, Tuscany. A 54-point charter was developed, encouraging high quality local food and drink, general conviviality and the opposition to cultural standardisation. By 2001, 28 Italian towns were signed up to the pledge and that number now stands in the hundreds across the globe.
To be a fully-fledged Cittaslow, there must be fewer than 50,000 residents, but there are countless Cittaslow Supporters – cities with a population in excess of that number which are committed to preserving their own unique characteristics and cultures, making it easier for residents to work less, build community, and enjoy nature, based on the Cittaslow principles.
To date, these include San Francisco, Rome, Milan and New York. In Tokyo, members of Sloth Club follow principles like eating slow, supporting local businesses, upcycling (re-using something that could have been thrown out), and walking or using public transport. One of the club’s main initiatives is a national campaign calling for city residents to turn off electric lights for two hours in the evening during the summer and winter solstices to promote an appreciation of natural light and minimal use of electricity.
‘Slow Health’ relates to the millions of people around the world turning to complementary and alternative forms of medicine, which often focus on slower more holistic forms of healing than the quick fix tablet. While not all are universally accepted as proven cures, certain treatments such as acupuncture and massage, and even just simple relaxation techniques, clearly have some kind of benefit and are becoming increasingly widely used in areas away from their original roots.
In the workplace, there has been a marked shift away from celebrating the long hours culture to working smarter and more flexibly to improve the work-life balance. Working constant overtime actually makes us unproductive and ill – time away from the office, mobile and laptop actually boost our health and value to our employers.
Even global giant Google has recognised the value of down time for employees with everyone granted 20 per cent of their time to spend on personal projects away from deadlines and targets linked to their day jobs.
Such time led to the creation of Gmail and other features we have come to associate with this icon – indicating that slowness and creativity go hand in hand.
Schools and universities are taking a leaf out of this particular book with many big names, including Harvard, encouraging students to do less but take time to enjoy them in order to get the most from their campus experience.
‘Wherever you look, the message, it seems to me, is the same: that less is very often more, that slower is very often better,’ said Honoré.
Slow Fashion focuses on purchasing fewer, better quality, clothes less often and supporting smaller fair trade and locally produced items over mass-produced ranges.
Other practices include buying secondhand or vintage clothing and donating unwanted garments and choosing clothing made with sustainable, ethically-made or recycled fabrics (see Friday’s guide to shopping for second-hand clothing in the UAE).
Slow TV is the latest aspect of everyday life to join the movement. While Scandinavia has been at the heart of recent small screen success stories, gripping international audiences with their gritty and often gruesome plots, it is the same part of the world leading the new alternative viewing cult.
Norway invented Slow TV and has featured a seven hour train trip from Bergen to Oslo and 12 hours of knitting. No soundtracks, no voiceovers – just the ‘action’, leaving the viewer to simply watch and reflect.
The UK followed suit with the BBC’s two-hour show, ‘All Aboard! The Canal Trip’, an unedited meander through the British countryside on a narrow boat.
In a review of the programme, Honoré said: ‘So much television nowadays is too fast for its own good. It’s frantic, shallow and dispiriting.
‘Slow TV is an antidote to all that. It is not a return to the television of the 1950s. Who wants that? On the contrary, it’s a glimpse into the future, a marker for how technology can help us stop and stare.
‘By serving up an unfiltered, real-time, high-definition window on the world, it encourages us to notice and savour the details, texture and fine grain of what’s around us.
‘Slow TV can spur deeper reflection. Because there is no narrative, it’s up to the viewer to search for meaning in the images and sounds on the screen. Slow TV becomes a backdrop or a canvas upon which to weave our own stories.’
Honoré describes the Slow Movement as ‘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.’
Side effects of living life in the fast lane include:
• Not sleeping enough: Fatigue has led to serious disasters in the workplace as well as in private homes.
• Negative impact on family life. Spending more time dealing with email as opposed to playing with children.
• In our haste, we feed ourselves badly, and suffer the consequences. Obesity rates are rocketing, in part because we eat fast, processed food packed with sugar and fat.
• Eating at a gentle pace is also good for the waistline, because it gives the stomach time to tell the brain that it is full. It takes about fifteen minutes for the brain to register the signal that you have eaten too much, and if you eat too quickly, that signal comes too late. You have already eaten more by then.
“This is where our obsession with going fast and saving time leads: To road rage, air rage, shopping rage, relationship rage, office rage, vacation rage, gym rage. Thanks to speed, we live in the age of rage.”
He stopped wearing a watch at and switched off his email alerts during the longer, relaxed bedtime story routine after adopting his new lifestyle – earning him a card from his son for being ‘the best story reader in the world’.