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November 29, 2004

In Praise of Slowness

A new yearning for a less hectic, high speed life inspires a different vision for the future.

In a world of electronic media and leisure-as-commodity, it is wonderful to see the popularity of another call for quiet reflection and human connection. A new book by Canadian journalist Carl Honore, In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed (HarperSanFrancisco), seems to be gaining a following. The book has been translated into 12 languages, has sold 60,000 copies, and is attracting major media attention such as a story in the latest Newsweek.

In Praise of Slowness takes inspiration from the Slow Food movement, urging people to opt out of compulsive busyness and to reclaim their time and family lives. Honore, a recovering “speedaholic,” says that he had an epiphany when he encountered a book of “one-minute bedtime stories” — obviously intended more for the harried parent than the imagination-rich child. The “slowness” movement strikes me as a cultural revolution waiting to erupt. How much faster can we humanly go, anyway?

Besides Slow Food, which celebrates localism and the leisurely enjoyment of good, nutritious food, there are other signs of organized dissatisfaction with the pace of contemporary life. John de Graaf runs an advocacy group, Take Back Your Time, which advocates for a shorter workweek and more vacation time. (“Medieval peasants worked less than you do” proclaims one of the group’s posters.) There is also the Simplicity movement and even The Society for the Deceleration of Time, an Austrian group that calls for “a more conscious way of living.”

The real question may be whether such efforts can move beyond the cultural margins and begin to really change people’s daily lifestyle choices (and eventually, public policy). After all, the corporate media get nervous about all this talk about stopping consumption. Just take a look at Real Simple, the Time-Life magazine that cleverly wraps itself in a minimalist aesthetic in order to sell more Cuisinarts and other stuff. Good luck, Mr. Honore.