Encamada – Bed-In for Slow

Starting today, a Spanish couple will spend 40 days in bed (à la John Lennon- Yoko Ono) to promote the Slow Movement. Intriguing social experiment. For instance, can you have a truly Slow bed-in if you’re online the whole time?

I’ll be speaking via Skype with the couple today at 17h (Spanish time).

Una pareja española va a pasar 40 días en la cama (onda John Lennon-Yoko Ono) para promover el Movimiento Slow.

Hablaré con ellos por Skype hoy a las 17h (hora española)

Too much of a good thing?

Just back from a conference in Newcastle, England called Thinking Digital. It was a glimpse into the extraordinary ways that technology is going to reshape the future, revolutionizing every aspect of the way we work, play and live. It may even alter what it means to be human, as artificial intelligence catches up with the real thing and more and more gadgets – think medical nanobots patrolling the bloodstream or computer chips boosting the brain – are installed in our bodies. The most vivid picture of this sci-fi future was painted by Ray Kurzweil, the futurist and inventor, who appeared on stage as a ghostly apparition inside a slab of glass. He was thousands of miles away in California yet we could see and hear each other as if we were all in the same room. I found the crystal ball-gazing in Newcastle exhilarating, but also a bit troubling. It seems to me that as the rate of technological change accelerates, we urgently need to slow down and answer some crucial question, starting with: Do really want everything that technology can deliver and will all the advances be benign? Even as a technophile, I have some doubts. What happens to memory, patience and the journey of discovery when all human knowledge is instantly accessible from anywhere? What happens to human relations when you can download the full profile of anyone you meet and read it on a Terminator-like screen on your contact lens before speaking to them? And who gets to write that profile? Above all, what happens when we are constantly connected to the Internet and no longer have any time or space for silent, solitary reflection?

One reason for the global obesity epidemic is that our bodies were designed for a hunter-gathering society and are therefore highly efficient at storing excess calories as fat. Today, when calories are permanently on tap and there is less call for burning them off hunting and gathering, our waist-lines are ballooning. As I sat there in Newcastle, with my own waist expanded from the buffet lunch, it occurred to me that maybe the same analogy works for the high-tech revolution. We are hard-wired to be curious and to want to connect and communicate with others – and those are wonderful instincts. The trouble is that in a world of limitless information and constant access to other people, we don’t know when to stop. Just as we keep on eating even after our bodies have had enough food, we keep on texting, surfing and wilfing long after our minds have reached a frenzy of stimulation and distraction. The truth is that no matter how fast the technology becomes, the human brain is always going to need slowness. To rest and recharge. To think deeply and creatively – every artist, designer and inventor knows that deceleration is essential for the act of creation. We also need to slow down in order to look into ourselves and grapple with the big questions: Who am I? How do I fit into the world? What is life really for? Nor is this a concern voiced only by monks and meditation gurus. Even the most gung ho geeks are starting to warn that being “always on” may not be the best thing for the human brain. Dipchand Nishar, the man in charge of wireless technology at Google, has said: “We had Generation X and Generation Y. Now we have Generation ADD.” And other high tech companies, including Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, are coming to similar conclusions.

Yet this is not a call for a Luddite backlash. Technology is not evil; on the contrary, it has mind-blowing potential to make the world a better place. But as we enter the era of what Kurzweil calls “exponential growth in technological advances,” the need for circumspection is greater than ever before. That means thinking hard about how best to apply each new technology rather than just automatically adopting it. Or put another way: As the pace of change quickens, we need to remember that some things never change, starting with the fact that we are human beings. And human beings will always need to unplug and slow down.

Everyone (almost) gets it

If you can gauge the strength of a cultural shift from the range of people taking part, then things are looking up for the Slow revolution. I get invited to speak to groups right across the spectrum, from schoolteachers, doctors and yoga coaches to business executives, IT specialists and architects. In fact, I’ve just agreed to speak at two events on February 7th in London. In the afternoon, I will give the second talk in a series of lectures and debates on slowness organized by the Royal College of Art. Then, after a very slow break, I’ll join an evening debate held by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council at the Hayward Gallery. The questions on the table are: “Are we moving fast enough? Does more speed always mean a society is making progress? Or is it time to put the brakes on our breakneck world?” Artists and engineers are seldom natural bedfellows but even they are finding common ground when it comes to challenging our fast forward culture.

By the way, the Hayward Gallery event is open to the public so maybe I’ll see some of you there…

Slow music triumphs over PowerPoint

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….

The Red room

I was in Sweden this week doing media interviews. I also gave a talk in what may be the most romantic venue I’ve encountered so far. It was inside the Berns Salonger, an elegant 19th-century hotel–cum-restaurant-cum-bar on the edge of the water in central Stockholm. The main hall is all dark wood and leather, with vast chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The talk was in a small space upstairs, just off the balcony that looks down onto the main hall. It turned out to be the celebrated Red Room, setting for the eponymous novel written in 1879 by Augustus Strindberg. In the book, the hero hangs out with bohemians in the Red Room. I spent the evening with businesspeople. But in the end we probably ended up in the same state anyway: well-fed, well-watered and wondering how to change the world.

From the beach in Bahia

I lived in Brazil long ago, and even then felt a strong pull to visit Bahia. Spicy food, colonial architecture, colourful folkloric dress, music everywhere – my kind of place. The Bahian people are also famous for being friendly, relaxed and unhurried – for being the slowest people in Brazil, in other words. At the moment, I’m at Praia do Forte, an eco-resort in Bahia, telling a gathering of Brazilian CIOs why they need to slow down. Maybe it’s the warm wind blowing in from the sea, maybe it’s the steady stream of caipirinhas, or maybe it’s something in the Bahian air, but they seem to like the idea.

Baltic slow

Just arrived in Vilnius on the first stop of a talking tour of the three Baltic states – Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia. This part of the world is racing along to catch up with the rest of the West. Everyone is in a hurry and schedules are packed to bursting point. One of the first ads I saw screamed: “I love life in the fast lane.” Yet already the idea of putting on the brakes is catching on with the locals – even the most impatient ones. I have been invited here to talk about the Slow philosophy by an organization called FastLeader.com….