Seeing the value in leisure, inactivity, even boredom

'Slowness' author wants everyone to enjoy life more by doing much less

Conversations

August 22, 2004|By Valerie Finholm | Valerie Finholm,Hartford Courant

Carl Honore calls it his bedtime-story epiphany. Four years ago, while waiting in line at an airport to catch a flight home to London, the foreign correspondent was on his cell phone chatting with his editor while skimming a newspaper when an article caught his eye: "The One-Minute Bedtime Story."

As the frazzled father of a 2-year-old, Honore's first thought was "Eureka!" The next thought was: "Have I gone completely insane?"

Upon his return home, he decided to investigate the pace of life and the prospects for slowing down. The result is the international best seller In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed (HarperCollins, 2004, $24.95).

Honore writes about how the slow movement has affected his life. He realized: "I am Scrooge with a stopwatch, obsessed with saving every last scrap of time, a minute here, a few seconds there. ... Everyone around me -- colleagues, friends, family -- is caught in the vortex."

Honore's book is not about throwing out televisions, computers and cell phones. It is about a worldwide movement for social change -- for balance in our lives; for ridding society of its "addiction to hurry."

We interviewed Honore via e-mail from his home.

Even if many people are slowing down in different ways, is there really such a thing as a "Slow Movement"?

Definitely. It is a loose collection of individuals and groups who share the same belief: that we can live better if we live a little more slowly. ... Italy has spawned the Slow Food, Slow Cities and Slow Sex movements. The Japanese aspire to what they call "Slow Life." Northern Europeans talk about "Slow" living. An American professor recently published "Slow Schooling." A Canadian entrepreneur has set up a group called Slowbiz to promote deceleration in the corporate world.

You write that the worldwide Slow Movement can co-exist with the computer age of cell phones, e-mail, etc. How so?

Slow Movement can do more than just co-exist with the computer age: It can allow us to make the most of it. It's about using technology when it makes sense to do so, rather than all the time. Multitasking has its place, but it also has its limits. How much do you really get out of conversation when you're surfing the Net at the same time? Switch off the cell phone when you know you won't miss an important call. Leave your desk, and sit in a quiet room for 10 minutes during the workday. Turn off the TV, and read a book. Unplugging will help you de-stress.

You write about American physician Larry Dossey, who coined the term "time sickness" in 1982. What did he mean?

Time sickness is the neurotic belief that time is always running away from us, and that we have to pedal faster and faster just to keep up. One remedy is to rethink our approach. In the West, we are raised to believe that "time is money" and that the best way to get value for that money is to go faster. This is absurd. It puts quantity ahead of quality. The best way to get value from our time is to give things the time they deserve. We need moments of inactivity, of boredom even, in order to relax, reflect and recharge.

You write that, for the Slow Movement, the workplace is a critical battlefront.

Corporate America may be the hardest nut to crack when it comes to selling the Slow philosophy. It has a pathological fear of slowness. But American business could gain so much from a little deceleration. Work-life balance schemes pay off in higher productivity and better staff retention. When staff is relaxed and free to slow down, they think more creatively.

How has your life -- and your family life -- changed since writing the book?

On the surface, not much has changed. I still live in fast-paced London and work as a freelance journalist. But my whole approach is different. I've eased the pressure on my schedule by cutting back on activities that were eating more time than they were worth -- tennis and TV, for instance. As a family, we now reserve one day on the weekend for doing nothing, for just hanging out at home. As a result, the kids are more relaxed and attentive, and family life is less fraught. At work, I space my deadlines and resist the temptation to take on too many assignments.

I recently came across a letter written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote in 1832: "The world is in such a hurry." Her words seem particularly prescient in light of the woman in your book who was diagnosed with "mobile-phone addiction." Any thoughts?

The world really began accelerating in earnest during the Industrial Revolution, and Stowe was not the only one to lament it. But things have now sped up to the point where almost everyone senses that life is moving too fast. We can feel it in our bones. Our work, diet and health, or relationships and sex lives, are all suffering. We feel like we're rushing through our lives rather than living them. We no longer have the time or the tranquillity to connect with anything or anyone properly. That is why there is such a yearning for slowness.

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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