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.

Slow Sunday

Remember when we used to have a day of rest? In Christian countries, it was Sunday. Work stopped, stores closed, the sound and fury of the city subsided.

But that’s all a distant memory now. Sunday has become just like any other day of the week: we work, shop, surf the Net, sit fuming in traffic jams.

This is folly. Most cultures have some kind of Sabbath tradition for one simple reason: we all need a break.

It’s probably too late to turn back the clock to make Sunday an official day of rest. The genie is out of the bottle and the world is too complex and multicultural to accept an enforced Sabbath.

But we can still set aside a day to relax, reflect and spend time with the people that are important to us.

One way to do that is to take part in the Slow Sunday Campaign. It is the brainchild of Resurgence, a wonderful British magazine that espouses a Slow view of the world. One Sunday a month, its readers are invited “to take part in simple actions that symbolize a rejection of commercialism, a passion for the planet and a desire for change.”

One Sunday it was baking bread. Last time it was planting something.

I love this idea. We’re all so busy and frenetic that we almost need a campaign to remind us that it’s okay to ease off one day a week.

My own Sundays are already pretty slow. In the morning I play soccer with my son, his friends and few other dads. Then we usually cook, eat a leisurely lunch and maybe go for a walk.

Come to think of it, our Saturdays are kinda slow, too.

If the Resurgence campaign catches fire, the next step might be to start crusading for Slow Weekends…

Slow London

It’s finally here.

The first Slow Down London festival kicked off on Friday with, among other things, a very slow walk across Waterloo Bridge. Over the next 10 days, one of the world’s fastest cities will be exploring the benefits of putting on the brakes with a heaving smorgasbord of talks, activities, workshops and media coverage.

This is hugely exciting. If you’d said to me five years ago, when In Praise of Slow came out, that London would be holding a big Slow Down festival in 2009 I would have written you off as a dreamer. Or a loon. It shows how far the Slow revolution has come – and how fast.

Of course, skeptics say it’s impossible to slow down in London. But they are wrong. You don’t have to move to the country to decelerate. You can be slow anywhere because slow is a state of mind. It’s about how you use time.

Slow Down London does not aim turn this magnificent city into a Mediterranean holiday resort or a painting by John Constable. The energy and dynamism of London are wonderful  The problem is that we get caught up in the frenzy and it backfires on us. We can get so much more out of London by slowing down a bit.

So if you live in or near London, I urge you to take part in some of the festival events. If you live somewhere else, why not start planning a Slow Down festival in your own town?

Tonight, I will be speaking at the Southbank centre about the Slow movement. On Monday, I’ll be taking part in a panel discussion about what the Slow movement means for crafts and the art of making things. And on Wednesday, I’m chairing a discussion about Slow travel.

In other words, it won’t be a very slow week for me…


Slow Reading

Wow. Last night I finished reading to my children the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series. What an odyssey – 3,407 pages in all. We must have started two years ago, and we read other books along the way, but Harry Potter was always there, a fellow traveller on this leg of their journey through childhood. When we started out, my daughter couldn’t read. Last night she was peering over my shoulder trying to see what was going to happen next with Lord Voldemort before I got there. Reading seems to me the ultimate act of slow. At a time when so much reading involves skimming bite-sized chunks, it is a relief and joy to tackle a very long work that repays the investment of time and attention so handsomely. I wouldn’t read Harry Potter to myself but I loved reading it to my kids. I hope the three of us will always remember those long hours spent huddled together on beds, in tents, in airplanes, by the beach, in forests, even in the car while stuck in traffic jams listening to the story unfold, slowly but surely. The question now is what big book to read next. My son is lobbying for the Hobbit and then Lord of the Rings. My daughter thinks there will be more princesses in the Narnia Chronicles. Any suggestions welcome…

Slowing down email

Email is wonderful but it’s getting out of hand. It’s so easy and fast that we end up hitting the Send button without even thinking – and we get hooked on being in contact. This year, the average corporate user fired off 27 percent more emails than in 2006. Many employees now check email every 90 seconds. How can you ever concentrate, think deeply or even relax in that kind of electronic bombardment? The answer is that you can’t, which is why the corporate world is clamping down. Big firms like Deloitte & Touche, Intel and U.S. Cellular are now imposing limits on how much email staff can send and when they can send it. The idea is to help staff relax and work better, and to encourage slower, more efficient forms of communication in the office, such as getting up off your rear-end and walking across the hall to talk face-to-face to a colleague. The email bans often face early resistance but eventually even the heaviest emailers come round.

Slow improv

I love improvisational comedy. It has a high-wire act quality that adds an extra edge and energy to the humour. It also seems like a very fast art: you have to come up with killer lines or movements in the blink of an eye. But now it seems that the Slow philosophy is making inroads in the world of improv. Apparently there is a Chicago school of improv that is more patient, less frenetic and built more around characters and ensemble work. Read an intriguing chat-room thread about itHERE. Meanwhile, Katie Goodman, a smart, funny and very thoughtful actress-director-writer is just finishing up a book on how to use the tools of improvisiational comedy in everyday life. One of the things she is exploring is how finding your inner tortoise off stage can allow you to be calmer, sharper and more creative when you’re actually in a fast-moving game of improv. You can find out more about by clickingHERE.

A lover with a slow hand

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.”