Research in 32 cities around the world has revealed that, on average, pedestrians are now walking 10% faster than they did 12 years ago. The acceleration has been most acute in the booming economies of Asia. The Chinese have upped their walking speed by nearly 30%. The weird thing is that some cities with a reputation for being laidback now rank among the fastest. Dublin came fifth and Copenhagen second. As it happens, I was in the Danish capital yesterday and didn’t notice a brisker pace, but maybe it was just a slow day. Here is the conclusion of the head researcher: “People’s walking pace is determined by how much they think they’re in a hurry, how quickly they think they should be doing things…I believe a lot of it is technology-driven. These days, you press send on an email and if someone hasn’t responded in ten minutes, you think: ‘Where are they?'”
I’m in Copenhagen right now having just given a talk to a corporate audience. The first speaker was interrupted by a strange hiccup in the sound system: in the middle of his presentation, Norah Jones’ song Come Away With Me started playing through the speakers. It was hilarious. And strangely soothing. Suddenly, in the middle of a talk that demanded our attention, we were thrown a life-line, the chance to kick back, switch off and soak up some music. I felt a bit disappointed when the tech-guy pulled the plug on Norah. Still, it gave me an idea. Maybe I should work a brief musical interlude into my talk. Any suggestions welcome. I’m toying with the idea of slipping in a short blast of Slow Hand by the the Pointer Sisters during the sex section….
A recent poll by the people atRat Race Rebellionhas underlined what many of us know already: that the virus of hurry is taking a heavy toll on our love lives. Nearly 90% of respondents said that a high-stress, over-scheduled, always-on lifestyle was crowding out romance. This jibes with other research showing that more and more of us are now willing to interrupt the act of love to take a cellphone call or read an email. Christine Durst, one of the people behind the Rat Race Rebellion, sums it up neatly: “We’re turning everything on but each other.”
Last night I gave a talk before a screening of Fast Food Nation at a cinema in Bristol, England. An odd movie. The book is an elegant and searing exposé of the fast food industry but something is lost in the jump from the printed page to the big screen. Trying to transform a work of non-fiction reportage into a Robert Altmanesque ensemble piece was never going to be easy, I suppose. It’s worth seeing but if you have to choose between the two then go with the book.
Hardly a week goes by these days without a journalist from somewhere in the world emailing me to talk about the rise of Slow Travel. And no wonder. The fast-forward approach to travel and tourism is taking a heavy toll. The environmental damage caused by our penchant for globetrotting in airplanes 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. It’s about savouring the journey (traveling by train or barge or bicycle rather than crammed into a middle seat on an EasyJet flight); 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. The current issue of Newsweek Internationalhas a cover story devoted to Slow Travel and its title says it all: Slow is Beautiful.
There is nothing a news editor likes less than a slow news day. But maybe that’s exactly what the rest of us need a little more of. In her column in the London Times, Caitlin Moran recently called for a Slow News Movement. By that she means that daily bulletins should clear more space for less dramatic, but more upbeat, news stories: “Something to wean us off bad News Burgers and on to the far more beneficial fruit salad of cheerfulness.” Moran then suggests that the Slow News advocate seek out someone with whom to share the happy tidings. I think she may be stretching the definition of Slow a little here but that’s hardly the end of the world. I for one would definitely welcome less doom and gloom on the evening news.