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…
I gave a talk over the weekend to some executives and afterwards one of them, a very affable Austrian called Thomas, told me about the time he went to close a big business deal with the Vatican. He arrived from Vienna with a full schedule of meetings but instead of hurrying to the first of them his priest-chaperone took him to a chapel to pray for 45 minutes. And they stopped for further prayers after every meeting through the busy day. At first Thomas was anxious and restless, but eventually he surrendered to the ritual and actually found the breaks quite soothing. He also found that the meetings were more relaxed and more efficient (faster, even!) because he’d had time to reflect, recharge and even plan a little. Maybe prayer is the ultimate form of slowness.
Last Friday I appeared on an Argentine TV show called Mañanas Informales. It’s one of my favourite shows for talking on. It manages to be noisy and dynamic without being stressful. One reason for this may be the Laughing Trio. In one corner of the studio, three rather scruffy young men sit in front of microphones sipping yerba mate and providing the show’s live laughter soundtrack. They whoop, whistle, make cheeky remarks and laugh with infectious gusto. I know they’re laughing to order but the effect is still the same: I find them hugely amusing and weirdly soothing. Certainly beats the hell out of the canned laughter that blights so many sitcoms. I even feel a bit envious: if you have to work in TV, then what better job could there be?
I’m in Buenos Aires at the moment. It’s amazing how the Slow philosophy strikes such a powerful chord here. I have a theory. Well, actually, I have several theories but here’s the one on my mind at the moment. Like others in the developing world, the Argentines feel that drive to catch up with the West as fast as possible, perhaps without even asking whether everything we have is really worth striving for. But Buenos Aires is also a very cultured city, a place where people read books and talk about ideas, which means they are more open to cultural shifts like the Slow philosophy than are other places. Result: a fascinating paradox and an ardent desire to make sense of it all. Just a thought.
There is nothing slower than camping. We have just returned from three nights at theResurgence Summer Campwhich was held near Malvern, Worcestershire in England. I spoke on the first morning and then the rest of the time we slipped into festival-goer mode. It was a joy waking up to the sound of birds singing instead of the trill of the mobile phone or that ping from the email inbox. The site was set by a river and surrounded by trees, and the sun shone constantly. The best part was watching our children spend the whole day, and some of the night, running around playing with new friends. So much freedom. The composting toilets take a bit of getting used to, but nothing beats showering in the outdoors. We’ve got the camping bug now and are already planning our next trip.
I love the fact that so many young people are coming round to the idea that slower can be better. Recently, Carrie VanDusen, a final-year student at Apple Valley High School in Minnesota, got all the way to the finals of one of the most presitigious public speaking tournaments in the US. Her topic was the Slow movement. She came fourth, which is pretty amazing, especially when you consider that she spoke to an audience of 3,000.
I’m in Toronto for a three-day conference called IdeaCity. It’s an amazing collision of ideas and dreams. One of the comments that has struck me most came from a physicist. He explained that 75% of the energy in the universe comes from empty space. This is wonderfully counter-intuitive. I may be stretching things here but it also seems like a nifty metaphor for the power that is unleashed by slowing down. When we become still, it looks like nothing is happening but in fact, beneath the surface, all kinds of extraordinary thinking and exploring is going on.
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….
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.
I gave a talk this morning to a group of management consultants at the Accenture headquarters in London. Not an easy audience, you’d think, but they seemed very open to the idea that slowing down might be good for them, the company and the world in general. Afterwards, a woman from the audience told me about the incident that persuaded her it was time to put on the brakes. She spotted a good friend in the street but, deciding she was too busy even to stop and say hello, ducked into a shop to avoid catching his eye. He died suddenly a few days later and so the next time she saw him was at his funeral.