Just back from nine glorious days in a cottage in a forest by the sea in Sweden. Swimming in the Baltic, soccer on the sandy beach, eating under the stars. It was heaven.

A big part of the charm was that we never once looked at a screen of any size: no email, no Internet, no phones, no TV.

Which made me wonder: is unplugging now the ultimate luxury?

Of course, being online can be wonderful. We are hardwired to be curious and to connect and communicate. The problem is that in a world of limitless information and constant access to other people, we often don’t know when to stop.

Being “always on” is exhausting and superficial. It erodes our producitivity. It locks us into what one Microsoft research called a state of “continuous partial attention.”

That’s why a backlash is gathering steam.

Consider the rise of the Slow Technology movement.

Or the response to news that more airlines are planning to allow travelers to use mobile phones and surf the Internet during flights.

You would expect a roar of applause from passengers desperate to stay connected in the air.  But the opposite is true. A recent survey of business travelers – the Crackberry demographic – found that 91.2% were against wiring up flights for phone and Internet use.

Why? Because the plane is now the final frontier, the last place on earth where you can completely disconnect, where you can forget about your inbox and voicemail. A place to doze, doodle and daydream. A place where your time is truly your own.

One frequent flyer I know puts it this way: “I hate flying but I look forward to flights now because it’s the only time when no one can bother or interrupt me. These days I do some of my best thinking on planes.”

And of course there is another compelling reason to resist the wiring up of flights: Can you imagine anything worse than being woken by someone in the next seat shouting ”I’m on an airplane!” into a handset?

For more thoughts on this, check out my piece in the current issue of Vodafone Receiver.

Snail mail in action

An amusing item on the BBC news today. Postal workers in Britain have complained of being forced to walk too fast -four miles an hour or 6.44 km/h – and that some have been fired for being too slow. The Royal Mail denies imposing a minimum walking speed but staff insist that the company’s new computer system forces them to rush through their rounds. One postman claimed his schedule did not take into account long driveways, bad weather or hostile dogs.I’ve blogged before about howwalking speedis a cultural barometer but this case underlines the folly of assuming that faster is always better.

What happens when postal workers are in a rush? Well, like everyone else, they make mistakes. Several times a week, we get mail delivered to our house in London that is addressed to the neighbours, or even to people several streets away. And lots of stuff sent to us never arrives. According to one estimate, the Royal Mail loses over a million letters and packages every month.

Something else gets lost when postal workers work race the clock – the banter on the doorstep, the friendly hello in the street, the watching out for the elderly neighbour, thehuman touch. The postman used to be part of the social glue of the community; now he’s just another service-provider hurrying to meet his targets. The idea of that the postman always rings twice now seems like a quaint memory from yesteryear. When our postman delivers a package, he rings only once, and even then you have to sprint to answer. Dilly dally for a few seconds and he’s already gone. Probably to deliver some of our mail to the neighbours…

Rational exuberance

I’ve just heard that Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, wrote 85% of his new book in the bathtub. Soaking in a hot bath is the ultimate form of slow. Greenspan says that he does his best writing, reading and thinking in the tub. I know the feeling. I love a slow bath at the end of the day. And a lot of my best ideas come while watching the children’s rubber ducks bob among the bubbles.

Slow down with a siesta

Today is National Siesta Day in Britain! And siestas are the ultimate expression of Slow. Taking a post-prandial snooze seems like heresy in our fast-forward culture, but actually it’s very good for you. It can boost productivity by over 30% and almost double your alertness. It can also enhance memory and concentration, reduce stress and the risk of heart disease by 34%. It can even help you lose weight. So what are you waiting for? I’ve just finished lunch and that means one thing: zzzzzzzzz

Speed walking

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?'”

McYoga, anyone?

How’s this for a sign that the speed culture is on the defensive. A while ago, McDonald’s started offering healthier food like salads and bottled water. Now I’ve just heard that any customer who orders an Asian chicken salad gets a free yoga DVD. Could there be a more absurd paradox? A company that built its fortune on the drive-thru Big Mac encouraging punters to chill out in the Lotus position. I suppose the upside is that this underlines how far the Slow revolution reaches. But I’d be more impressed if McDonald’s took the really bold step of handing out DVDs of Morgan Spurlock’s documentarySuper Size Me.

Patience for Spanish patients

Just got back from giving a talk in Barcelona. Love that city, even in the rain. But the trip there was dreadful thanks to the snow that paralyzed the trains and the airports in Britain – lots of bad slow. Along the way I discovered that Spanish doctors, fed up with the constant pressure to hurry patients through the system as quickly as possible, are fighting back. They want more time in order to do their job properly. To that end, they are demanding a minimum of 10 minutes with each patient. There is a campaign group called Plataforma 10 Minutos and you can find out more by clickingHERE.

Iceland takes the plunge

I’m in Iceland at the moment singing the praises of slow. This may be a small country – the population is about 300,000 – but the virus of hurry has entered the bloodstream here, too. In Reykjavik people race around in their cars jabbering into mobile phones. Everyone has a packed schedules and the working day is long. But at least Icelanders have an antidote: soaking in the outdoor pools that dot the country. In one complex near my hotel in Reykjavik, people of all ages, shapes, sizes and income-brackets come to soak in the warm water underneath the northern sky. There are no Plasma screens showing CNN, no speakers pumping out muzak or MTV and everyone leaves their mobile and Blackberry at the door. You just relax, let the mind wander or chat quietly. The best kind of slow.

A cure for vacationitis?

The aversion to taking a vacation has gone so far that big companies are now looking for ways to force their staff to take a break. A recent report in the New York Times reveals that PricewaterhouseCoopers has taken to closing down its entire US operation twice a year to ensure that its employees down tools. Everything stops at the well-known accounting firm for 10 days over Christmas and five days around the Fourth of July. During the year, the company also sends electronic reminders to staff who are failing to take enough vacation time. Posters depicting idle days away from the desk now hang in its New York office. One high-ranking member of the firm says that “we wanted to create an environment where people could walk away and not worry about missing a meeting, a conference call or 300 e-mails.” Not surprisingly, productivity is up since the new push for vacation.

And if PricewaterhouseCoopers can do it, then….