In Praise of Slowness
How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed
Carl Honoré
Harper Collins, San Francisco, California (USA), 2004 (2004)
310 pages, including notes and index

Although born in the mid-1980s when the Italian Carlo Petrini decided to protest the opening of a McDonald's restaurant in the Piazza de Spagna in Rome, it was not until sometime in the 1990s that the slow movement became the media darling and it started to spread to other countries. In 2004, Carl Honoré, a Canadian journalist, wrote In Praise of Slowness, where he discusses the contemprary cult of speed and introduces us to the new philosophy and its implications. Written with a journalistic approach, In Praise of Slowness is easy to read and does a good job at introducing us to the movement and its main tenets, although it does become a bit repetitive at times.

In the introduction, Honoré tells us about a personal anecdote where, while waiting in line to take a flight from Rome to London, he reads an article about a book that had just been released containing one-minute bedtime stories for busy parents. The article leads him to reflect on his own relationship with his son and what he calls the age of rage that surrounds us these days:

In 1982 Larry Dossey, an American physician, coined the term "time-sickness" to describe the obsessive belief that "time is getting away, that there isn't enough of it, and that you must pedal faster and faster to keep up." These days, the whole world is time-sick. We all belong to the same cult of speed. Standing in that lineup for my flight home to London, I beging to grapple with the questions that lie at the heart of this book: Why are we always in such a rush? What is the cure for time-sickness? Is it possible, or even desirable, to slow down?

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, p. 3)

However, as Honoré clearly states several times throughout the book, his intention is not to criticize speed and technology. He is fully aware that they can also be useful, and tells us that what the slow movement tries to do is to balance our lives a little bit more, not to fight against speed:

Before we go any further, though, let's make one thing clear: this book is not a declaration of war against speed. Speed has helped to remake our world in way that are wonderful and liberating. Who wants to live without the Internet or jet travel? The problem is that our love of speed, our obsession with doing more and more in less and less time, has gone too far; it has turned into an addiction, a kind of idolatry. Even when speed starts to backfire, we invoke the go-faster gospel. Falling behind at work? Get a quicker Internet connection. No time for that novel you got at Christmas? Learn to speed-read. Diet not working? Try liposuction. Too busy to cook? Buy a microwave. And yet some things cannot, should not, be sped up. They take time; they need slowness. When you accelerate things that should not be accelerated, when you forget how to slow down, there is a price to pay.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 4-5)

In other words, the terms "fast" and "slow" need to be refined a little bit:

Now is the moment to define our terms. In this book, Fast and Slow do more than just describe a rate of change. They are shorthand for ways of being, or philosophies of life. Fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed, superficial, impatient, active, quantity-over-quality. Slow is the opposite: calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, patient, reflective, quality-over-quantity. It is about making real and meaningful connections —with people, culture, work, food, everything. The paradox is that Slow does not always mean slow. As we shall see, performing a task in a Slow manner often yields faster results. It is also possible to do things quickly while maintaining a Slow frame of mind. A century after Rudyard Kipling wrote of keeping your head while all about you are losing theirs, people are learning how to keep their cool, how to remain Slow inside, even as they rush to meet a deadline at work or to get the children to school on time. One aim of this book is to show how they do it.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 14-15)

In the end, what the slow movement proposes is to balance things out a bit and, above all, make sure that we can step off the treadmill and regain a certain measure of freedom to decide what is the right pace for ourselves:

On a baking summer afternoon in Bra, the small Piedmontese city that is home to the headquarters of Slow Food, I meet Petrini for a chat. His recipe for life has a reassuringly modern twang. "If you are always slow, then you are stupid —and that is not what we are aiming for," he tells me. "Being Slow means that you control the rythhms of your own life. You decide how fast you have to go in any given context. If today I want to go fast, I go fast; if tomorrow I want to go slow, I go slow. What we are fighting for is the right to determine our own tempos."

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, p. 16)

The first chapter of the book describes our society, which appears to follow the motto that gives title to the chapter: do everything faster. Honoré finds the origins of this mentality in the appearance of the mechanical clock (which was far from welcome by the vast majority of people) and, of course, the Industrial Revolution:

Persuading the early industrial workers to live by the clock was not easy. Many laboured at their own speed, took breaks on a whim or failed to show up for work at all —a disaster for factory bosses paying hourly wages. To teach workers the new time discipline demanded by modern capitalism, the ruling classes set about promoting punctuality as a civic duty and a moral virtue, while denigrating slowness and tardiness as cardinal sins. In its 1891 catalogue, the Electric Signal Clock Company warned against the evils of failing to keep pace: "If there is one virtue that should be cultivated more than any other by him who would succeed in life, it is punctuality: if there is one error to be avoided, it is being behind time." One of the firm's clocks, the aptly named Autocrat, promised to "revolutionize stragglers and behind-time people."

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, p. 26)

After that came taylorism and an industrial civilization that is ruled by the clock. All our institutions (from the factory to the office, from the military barracks to the schools) are designed to follow the unchallenged dictum of the clock.

Why, amid so much material wealth, is time-poverty so endemic? Much of the blame rests with our own mortality. Modern medicine may have added an extra decade or so to the three score years and then originally laid down in the Bible, but we still live under the shadow of the biggest deadline of all: death. No wonder we feel that time is short and strive to make every moment count. But if the instinct to do so is universal, then why are some cultures more prone than others to race against the clock?

Part of the answer may lie in the way we think about time itself. In some philosophical traditions —Chinese, Hindu and Buddhist. to name three— time is cyclical. On Canada's Baffin Island, the Inuit use the same word —uvatiarru— to mean both "in the distant past" and "in the distant future." Time, in such cultures, is always coming as well as going. It is constantly around us, renewing itself, like the air we breathe. In the Western tradition, time is linear, an arrow flying remorselessly from A to B. It is a finite, and therefore precious, resource. Christianity piles on pressure to put every moment to good use. The Benedictine monks kept a tight schedule because they believed the devil would find work for idle hands to do. In the nineteenth century, Charles Darwin summed up the Western obsession with making the most of every minute with a stern call to action: "A man who wastes one hour of time has not discovered the meaning of life."

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 29-30)

The obsession has grown deeper and deeper, and it has also spread ever further, thanks to the recent process of globalization. There are still some areas of the world that live in the margins of capitalism but, for the most part, everything is now under its control, which also implies the hegemony of concepts such as time, productivity and efficiency. As a matter of fact, often we manage to come up with quite strange excuses to justify the tyranny of the clock:

Some argue that a round-the-clock culture can make people feel less hurried by giving them the freedom to work and run errands whenever they want to. That is wishful thinking. Once the boundaries are swept away, competition, greed and fear encourage us to apply the time-is-money principle to every single moment of the day and night. That is why even sleep is no longer a haven from haste. Millions study for exams, learns foreign languages and brush up on management techniques by listening to tapes while they doze. On the Sleep Learning website, the assault on what used to be the one time when we could slow down without feeling guilty is dressed up as an exciting oportunity for self-improvement: "Your non-waking hours —one third of your life— are now non-productive. Tap this huge potential for advancing your career, health and happiness!"

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 35-36)

In reality, what rules our lives is the need to accumulate capital, which is why all sorts of excuses are put forward to justify the rule of the clock in the name of efficiency and productivity. All of it is most of the time veiled as "civic virtue" and "self-improvement", of course. The culture of speed has to be sold as "common sense" and, once the majority accepts it as the norm, everything else is, by definition, weird, strange, wacky.

However, in contraposition to this cult of everything that is fast, Honoré tells us about a trend to emphasize the importance of slowness. For a while, this was strongly linked to the hippie movement and the New Age ideas that followed it. Yet, as Honoré explains, there is truly no reason why a firm defense of slowness must be linked to any form of spirituality:

So does that mean we have to be spiritual, or "New Age-y"," to be Slow? In our cynical, secular world, it is a question that matters. Many people, including me, are wary of any movement that promises to open the door to spiritual nirvana. Religion has never been a big partr of my life, and many New Age practices strike me as mumbo-jumbo. I want to slow down without being bullied into finding God or embracing crystals and astrology. Ultimately, the success of the Slow movement will depend on how smoothly it can reconcile people like me with decelerators of a more spiritual bent.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, p. 48)

And thus, an amorphous movement of people who emphasize the importance of living the moment or, at the very least, slowing down to a more "human rhythm" has appeared. It is quite often people who take small measures that, nevertheless, bring about subtle changes in behavior:

(...) On a recent trip to Germany, my interpreter raved about the benefits of not wearing a watch at all. He remains scrupulously punctual, thanks to the clock on his mobile phone, but his former obsession with minutes and seconds is waning. "Not having a watch on my wrist definitely makes me more relaxes about time", he told me. "It is easier for me to slow down, because time is not always there in my line of vision saying, 'No, you must not slow down, you must not waste me, you must hurry.'"

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, p. 51)

I vouch for that approach. I have not worn a watch since I was in my late teens or early twenties, and it did change my whole approach to time and life in general. I also noticed that, while wearing a watch, I would constantly check the time, even if I did not have to. Even worse, simply the act of checking the time would increase my level of stress, even if there was no apparent reason for it. As Honoré's German interpreter stated, the clock on the cell phone is good enough. And, before we all had cells, I just asked people on the street or check the clocks in public buildings. I was still able to arrive to meetings in time, while removing the stress from my life.

The next chapter discusses the Slow Food movement which, if memory serves, is the one that actually started the whole Slow movement craze. Honoré starts by telling us how, at least since the 1950s or 1960s, we toyed with the idea of no-hassle meals:

Even growing up in a foodie household, I remember liking the idea of an all-in-one meal pill. I imagined gulping it down and heading straight back outside to play with my friends. Of course, the idea of instant food was not invented by The Jetsons —it is an inevitable fantasy in a culture desperate to do everything faster. In 1958, four years before the first episode of The Jetsons was made, Cosmopolitan magazine predicted, without a hint of sadness, that one day every meal would be prepared in the microwave, which first hit the consumer market in the early 1950s. To remind us of a time when cooking was less rushed and more real, we would spray artificial aromas —think fresh bread, sizzling sausages, roasted garlic— around the kitchen. In the end, the Cosmo prophecy turned out to be only half true: these days we are in too much of a hurry to bother with the fake smells. Food, like everything else, has been hijacked by haste. Even if the instant meal pill remains the stuff of sci-fi fantasy, we have all taken a leaf out of the Jetsons' cookbook.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 53-54)

In other words, our industrial society taught us to gulp down our food, to eat as if we were refueling, thus throwing out the whole ritual that used to accompany eating a meal. This is precisely what the Slow Food folks try to combat (among other things):

It all started in 1986, when McDonald's opened a branch beside the famous Spanish Steps in Rome. To many locals, this was one restaurant too far: the barbarian were inside the gates and something had to be done. To roll back the fast-food tsunami sweeping across the planet, Carlo Petrini, a charismatic culinary writer, launched Slow Food. As the name suggests, the movement stands for everything that McDonald's does not: fresh, local, seasonal produce; recipes handed down through the generations; sustainable farming; artisanal production; leisurely dining with family and friends. Slow Food also preaches "eco-gastronomy" —the notion that eating well can, and should, go hand in hand with protecting the environment. At its heart, though, the movement is about pleasure.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, p. 59)

Slow Food, though, takes a more comprehensive approach. The goal is not only to recover the traditions and promote long, leisurely family meals, but also to combine that with a preference for good quality products that are environmentally sustainable:

As part of its ecological credo, Slow Food opposes the genetic modification of foodstuffs and promotes organic farming. Nobody has conclusively proven that organic food is more nutritious or better tasting than non-organic, but it is clear that the methods used by many conventional farmers take a toll on the environment, polluting the water table, killing off other plants and exhausting the soil. According to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, pesticides, directly or indirectly, kill at least sixty-seven million American birds every year. By contrast, a well-run organic farm can use crop rotation to enrich the soil and manage pests —and still be very productive.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, p. 62)

An approach that does not only make sense from a purely cultural or health point of view, but also from a personal point of view, as exemplified in the case of a couple of people interviewed by Honoré who noticed that the Slow Food philosophy carried with it a few perks in their own personal life:

Matthew and Catherine feel a Slow approach to food has strengthened their relationship, too, which is not surprising. There is something in the nature of cooking and eating together that forms a bond between people. It is no accident that the word "companion" is derived from Latin words meaning "with bread". A relaxed, convivial meal has a calming, even civilizing, effect, smoothing away the smash-and-grab haste of modern life. The Kwakiutl people of British Columbia warn that fast eating can "bring about the destruction of the world more quickly by increasing the aggressiveness" in it. Oscar Wilde expressed a similar sentiment with a typically barbed aphorism: "After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations."

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 71-72)

Thus, food becomes more than just fuel to keep us going in a hectic world. It is an excuse to promote stronger personal ties with those who surround us. And yet, plenty of skeptics would immediately point out that all this is mere entertainment for elitists, the latest fad of a rich society bored with itself and its lifestyle, always in search of something new to consume:

Inevitably, some critics dismiss Slow Food as a club for affluent epicureans —and when you watch members spending hundreds of dollars on truffle shavings at the Salone del Gusto, it is easy to see why. But charges of elitism are actually wide of [sic] the mark. Fine dining is just one aspect of the movement. Slow Food has plenty to offer those on a tight budget, too.

After all, eating Slow does not always mean eating expensively. Fruit and vegetables often cost less at farmers' markets. As demand grows, and efficiency improves, the price of organic food is coming down. In Britain, co-operatives are springing up in deprived areas, offering produce from local farms —as well as tips on how to cook it— at affordable prices. Cooking at home is also a surefire way to save monet. Meals made from scratch tend to be cheaper —as well as tastier— than the ready-made alternative. Pre-scrambled eggs cost twenty times more than uncooked ones from a carton.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 74-75)

While the skeptics do have a point, one might also argue that the criticism signals the extent to which we have become so alienated from the old natural ways: anything that does not involve read-made dinners or combining a couple of boxes and a can of ingredients to eat in 10-15 minutes while driving our cars is viewed as "elitist". Yet, our grandparents did precisely that, in spite of the fact that their incomes was much lower. As a matter of fact, plenty of people in many different countries throughout the world still live like that, even though they are not nearly as rich as we are. So, a high income is definitely not a prerequisite to cook at home and enjoy a family meal with the TV off, but it is nevertheless true that the slow movement (as many of the individual components that Honoré discusses in the book) do indeed have the flair of the typical fad to temporarily satisfy the insatiable consumption drive of the high-income, liberal-minded elites in our rich nations.

To experience a "true" slow food dinner first-hand, Honoré decides to visit a small Italian restaurant called Da Casetta where meals are highly customized and take forever to prepare:

In the afterglow of dinner at Da Casetta, it is easy to imagine that the future belongs to Slow Food. Yet the movement faces some serious obstacles. To start with, the global food industry is structured to favor high-turnover, low-cost production —and food manufacturers, long-distance transport companies, fast-food giants, advertising firms, supermarkets and industrial farms all have an interest in keeping it this way. In most countries, subsidy systems, regulations and supply chains are stacked against the Slow producer.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 81-82)

Yet, in spite of these comments, the author does not appear to see any significant contradiction between Slow Food (actually anything in the Slow movement as a whole) and modern capitalism. I see this as a big error. In any case, we will discuss this further down.

In the end, as with the other "branches" of the Slow movement, Slow Food opts for the middle path:

When it comes to modifying our own behaviour, Slow Food is realistic. It recognizes that every meal cannot be a four-hour banquet of handmade delicacies. The modern world simply does not allow it. We live in fast times, and taking a Fast approach to food is often the only option. Sometimes all we want or need is a sandwich on the run. Yet it is possible to work some of the Slow Food ideas that inform the menu at Da Casetta into your own kitchens. The place to start is with the raw materials. Local, seasonal produce. Meat, cheese and bread from conscientious producers. Maybe even a few herbs, like mint, parsely and thyme, grown in the garden or on the balcony.

The next step is to cook more. After a long, bruising day at work, our reflex is to throw a ready-made meal in the microwave or call out for Thai food. But sometimes that reflex is just that: a reflex. It can be overcome; we can find the time and energy to do a little chopping, frying and boiling. In my experience, taking a deep breath and just heading into the kitchen can be enough to get over the I-can't-be-bothered-to-cook hump. And once there, the payoff is more than just gastronomic. As the crushed garlic slides into the pan of hot oil and starts to sizzle, I can feel the stresses of the day melting away.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 82-83)

Chapter four discusses the challenges to apply the Slow philosophy to our cities:

The Citta Slow manifesto contains fifty-five pledges, such as cutting noise and traffic; increasing green spaces and pedestrian zones; backing local farmers and the shops, markets and restaurants that sell their produce; promoting technology that protects the environment; preserving local aesthetic and culinary traditions; and fostering a spirit of hospitality and neighbourliness. The hope is that the reforms will add up to more than the sum of their parts, that they will revolutionize the way people think about urban living. Sibille [deputy mayor of Bra, a driving force in the project] talks with zeal of "creating a new climate, an entirely new way of looking at life."

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 86-87)

The reality is that speeding up does not always make sense. It is just not true that it will always get us sooner to places (let's not even waste any time to argue in favor of the importanc of journey, as opposed to the destination):

On many journeys, speeding will not save any time at all. The spread of synchronized traffic signals means that drivers who flout the speed limit come up against more red lights. Weaving in and out of heavy traffic is often counter-productive, partly because lane speeds are constantly changing. Yet even knowing that speed is a false economy is unlikely to slow people down. The problem with most anti-speeding measures, from radar traps to narrowed roads, is that they rely on coercion. In other words, people slow down only because they must —to avoid damaging their car, being flashed by a roadside camera or rear-ending the vehicle in front of them. As soon as the coast is clear, they speed up again, sometimes even faster than before. The only way to win the war on speeding is to go deeper, to recast our whole relationship with speed itself. We need to want to drive more slowly.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, p. 102)

In the end, as in the other cases, it all boils down to a change in mentality, which is something that can be bolstered as a societal level but it can truly be carried only by the individuals themselves. Hence the difficulty, of course, of successfully spreading a Slow mentality throughout our speed-obsessed societies.

Chapter five discusses the relationship between mind and body:

Experts think the brain has two modes of thought. In his book Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind —Why Intelligence Increases When You Think Less, Guy Claxton, a British psychologist, calls them Fast Thinking and Slow Thinking. Fast Thinking is rational, analytical, linear, logical. It is what we do under pressure, when the clock is ticking; it is the way computers think and the way the modern workplace operates; it delievers clear solutions to well-defined problems. Slow Thinking is intuitive, woolly and creative. It is what we do when the pressure is off, and we have the time to let ideas simmer at their own pace on the back burner. It yields rich and subtle insights. Scans show the two modes of thought produce different waves in the brain —slower alpha and theta waves during Slow Thinking, faster beta ones during Fast Thinking.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 120-121)

Needless to say, we operate in fast thinking mode most of the day, both at work and at home. We fill up our own schedules so much (quite often with stuff that does not even merit to be there) that the stress does not allow us to consider anything in detail. We just cannot slow down and force ourselves to do everything "on the go".

However, as it turned out, we are discovering that a much different, slow appproach may perhaps be good even for sports and exercise in general:

Meanwhile, Western sports scientists are coming around to the idea that exercising more slowly can yield better results. The harder we work out, the more quickly our heart beats, and the more fat we burn. But beyond a certain point, the faster-is-better equation no longer applies. Dr. Juul Achten, a research fellow at the University of Birmingham, has found —and other studies have since confirmed— that we burn the most far per minute when our heart beats at 70% to 75% of its maximum rate. The average person can reach that state by popwer-walking or jogging lightly. Work out harder than that, pushing the hear rate closer to its maximum, and the body starts using more carbohydrates to fuel itself. In other words, the gym-rat pounding manically away on the StairMaster is probably burning less fat than the shrinking violet exercising more slowly on the neighbouring machine. The tortoise and the hare metaphor helps to explain. "The hare looks like he's achieving more because he's going faster," says Dr. Achten. "But in the race to burn fat, I would put my money on the tortoise to win."

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 136-137)

Chapter six centers on the Slow approach to medicine. The author starts by describing a normal doctor's appointment in a regular clinic:

When my name is called, an orderly steers me into the examination room, where a young consultant is waiting at a desk. My heart sinks. Everything, including the coffee stain on his tie, says: Hurry up! After a mumbled greeting, he launches straight into a breathless interrogation. Where is the pain? When did it start? When does it hurt? He wants quick, concise answers. When I try to elaborate, he cuts me short, repeating his question more firmly. We are at logger-heads. I want to build a complete picture of the injury —changes in my sports routine, how the pain has evolved, the impact of painkillers and stretching, the effect on my posture— but Dr. Hurry wants to tick a few boxes and finish his shift. During the brief physical examination, he glances at his watch —twice. Unable to identify the cause of the pain, he tells me to continue popping painkillers and puts me down for an MRI scan and a blood test. I have more questions, but my time is up. I leave the surgery nursing a bad case of consultation interruptus.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, p. 148)

Once again, we see the mechanical, industrial approach, although applied to the world of medicine in this case. But is there an alternative? Honoré discusses the so-called alternative medicines, although he prefers to view them as "complementary" of the regular medicine:

Yet even the most zealous fans of CAM [Complementary and Alternative Medicine] do not think that it can —or should— completely replace the Western tradition. There are certain conditions, such as infections and trauma, that conventional medicine will always be better at treating. Even in China you don't find herbalists rushing to treat the victims of car accidents. Its supporters claikm that where CAM can help most is precisely where Western medicine fails: in the handling of chronic illnesses ranging from asthma and heart disease to back pain and depression. Right now, the trend is to pair up the most effective Western and CAM treatments to create an entirely new tradition of "integrative medicine." CAM courses are already multiplying in conventional medical schools across the developed world, and centres for integrative medicine have sprung up in blue-chip US universities such as Harvard, Columbia and Duke. In 2022, the World Health Organization launched a global campaign to blend the best of CAM into mainstream medicine.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, p. 151)

It would be quite easy to criticize these alternative approaches as cuckoo. They certainly are not scientifically proven. Not only that, but they are open to plenty of abuse by New Age snake oil salesmen who simply tell people what they want to hear and run away with the money. However, that still does not explain why so many people are willing to listen:

Part of the attraction of complementary medicine is that it eschews the quick fix, and treats patients as people, rather than as a sack of symptoms. Most CAM therapies are by nature Slow. They work in harmony with the body and mind, coaxing rather than coercing the patient into healing. Relaxation, which lowers blood pressure and reduces pain, anxiety and depression, is often at the core of the treatment, as is urging people to live at a balanced pace. At the Hale Clinic, practitioners from all disciplines encourage their patients to be Slow —to work less, to eat in a more leisurely fashion, to meditate, to spend more time with family and friends, to take up contemplative hobbies, or simply to find a moment each day to walk in the park.

By and large, CAM practitioners take much more time than their mainstream rivals can afford. A homeopath will spend up to two hours with a patient, building rapport, listening attentively, sifting through the answers to tease out the root cause of the ailment. Massage and acupuncture sessions usually last an hour, during which the practitioner talks to and touches the patient. It may sound trite, but in a world where everyone is constantly dashing around, and real connections between people are few and far between, a little tender loving care goes a long way. It may even trigger healing mechanisms in the body. In the words of Ingrid Collins, a British consultant psychologist, "When you give patients time and attention, they can relax into healing."

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 152-153)

Is there room, then, to view these alternative approaches as complementary? Perhaps. On the condition that we don't lie about what they can achieve. As long as we clarify that they must be viewed precisely as that, as something that complements the other, main treatment. But most important, they raise an issue that the mainstream medicine ought to consider seriously: patients are not mere machines.

Chapter seven introduces us to the joys of Slow Sex and tantra:

Fast sex is not a modern invention —it goes way back, and probably has its roots in the survival instinct. In pre-historic days, copulating quickly made our ancestors less vulnerable to attack, either by a wild beast or a rival. Later, culture added extra incentives to hurry the sex act. Some religions taught that intercourse was for procreation rather than recreation: a husband should climb on, do his duty and climb off again.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, p. 168)

And so, in order to come up with an alternative to this guilt-ridden form of sex, some people are turning these days to the Eastern tradition of tantra:

So what exactly is Tantra? The word itself comes from Sanskrit, and means "to extend, expand or weave." Invented five thousand years ago in India, and later embraced by Buddhists in Tibet and China, Tantra is a spiritual discipline that treats the body as an instrument of prayer. Just as the Christian mystics reached out to God through self-flagellation, the Tantrikas used slow, mindful sexual union as the path to enlightenment. In other words, Tantric sex, in its purest form, is not just normal sex slowed down. It is about using sexual energy to forge a perfect spiritual union with your partner, and with the universe.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, p. 172)

Chapter eight tells about work and the benefits of working less hard, something that definitely goes against the grain of our modern civilization. For many centuries, we dreamed with a future where leisure would occupy most of our days. As a matter of fact, for a while, it did seem as if we were indeed moving closer and closer to that ideal. However, something went awfully wrong in the past few decades:

Whatever happened to the Age of Leisure? Why are so many of us still working so hard? One reason is money. Everyone needs to earn a living, but the endless hunger for consumer goods means that we need more and more cash. So instead of taking productivity gains in the form of extra time off, we take them in higher incomes.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 189-190)

It all boils down, of course, to the idea of productivity (and competitiveness, always associated to it):

Beyond the great productivity debate lies what may be the most important question of all: What is life for? Most people would agree that work is good for us. It can be fun, even ennobling. Many of us enjoy our jobs —the intellectual challenge, the physical exertion, the socializing, the status. But to let work take over our lives is folly. There are too many important things that need time, such as friends, family, hobbies and rest.

For the Slow movement, the workplace is a key battlefront. When the jon gobbles up so many hours, the time left over for everything else gets squeezed. Even the simple things —taking the kids to school, eating supper, chatting to friends— become a race against the clock. A surefire way to slow down is to work less. And that is exactly what millions of people around the world are seeking to do.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 191-192)

But it sure does not make any sense to cut one's own working hours, does it? Sure that would decrease our income and, as a consequence, make us less happy and stressed out, right? Well, it does not always have to be that way. It greatly depends on how we live:

As it turns out, people who cut their work hours often take a smaller hit financially than they expect. That is because spending less time on the job means spending less money on the things that allow us to work: transport, parking, eating out, coffee, convenience food, childcare, laundry, retail therapy. A smaller income also translates into a smaller tax bill. In one Canadian study, some workers who took a pay cut in return for shorter hours actually ended up with more money in the bank at the end of the month.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, p. 201)

Chapter nine discusses the importance of being at rest (assuming that we can even do that, which is assuming quite a bit these days, I am afraid):

During the early part of the Industrial Revolution, the masses worked too hard, or were too poor, to make the most of what free time they had. But as incomes rose, and working hours fell, a leisure culture began to emerge. Like work, leisure became formalized. Many of the things with which we fill our spare time today came into being in the nineteenth century. Football, rugby, hockey and baseball turned into spectator sports. Cities built parks for the public to stroll and picnic in. The middle classes joined tennis and golf clubs and flocked to the new museums, theatres and music halls. Better printing presses, coupled with rising literacy, fuelled an explosion in reading.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, p. 217)

Or, to put it differently, what started as a way to enjoy one's time off quickly became one more item on our busy agendas. Even worse, instead of practicing a sport or activity, we started to just watch it, thus making us a passive consumer.

Already at the beginning of this new trend there was a small reaction to the upcoming lifestyle based almost exclusively on passive entertainment:

Crafts are a perfect expression of the Slow philosophy. As the pace of life accelerated in the nineteenth century, many people fell out of love with the mass-produced goods pouring from the new factories. William Morris and other proponents of the Arts and Crafts movement, which started in Britain, blamed industrialization for giving machines the upper hand and stiffling the creative spirit. Their solution was to return to making things slowly and carefully by hand. Artisans produced furniture, textiles, pottery and other goods using traditional, pre-industrial methods. Crafts were hailed as a link to a kinder, gentler era. More than a century later, when once again technology seems to be calling the shots, our passion for the handmade is stronger than ever. You can see it in the cult of homemaking started by Martha Stewart, in the growth of the Slow Food movement and in the knitting boom sweeping across North America.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, p. 219)

It should not surprise us, then, that after a few decades the king of passive entertainment (i.e., television) came to replace any sort of outdoors activity:

After a long day at work, though, most people are still more liktely to reach for the television remote control than a gardening trowel or the knitting needles. Watching TV is easily the world's number one leisure activity, gobbling up much of our free time. The average American views around four hours of television a day, the average European around three. TV can entertain, inform, distract and even relax us, but it is not Slow in the purest sense of the word. It does not allow us time to pause or reflect. TV dictates the pace, and the pace is often fast —rapid-fire imagery, speedy dialogue and quick camera edits. Moreover, when we watch television, we do not make connections. On the contrary, we sit there on the sofa, soaking up images and words, without giving anything back. Most research shows that heavy viewers spend less time on the things that really make life pleasurable —cooking, chatting with family, exercising, making love, socializing, doing volunteer work.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, p. 225)

The author also tells us about Uwe Kliemt, one of the main figures who espouses some form of Slow music:

Kliemt and his allies believe that musicians began playing faster at the dawn of the industrial era. As the world sped up, they sped up with it. In the early nineteenth century, the public fell in love with a new generation of virtuoso pianists, among them the supremely gifted Franz Liszt, who played with dazzling dexterity. For the virtuoso, cranking up the tempo was one way to flaunt his technical brilliance —and give the audience a thrill.

Advances in instrument technology may have also encouraged faster playing. In the nineteenth century, the piano came to the fore. It was more powerful and better suited to running notes together than were its predecessors, the harpsichord and the clavichord. In 1878, Brahms wrote that "on the piano... everything happens faster, much livelier, and lighter in tempo."

Mirroring the modern obsession with efficiency, musical teaching took on an industrial ethic. Students began practising by playing notes, rather than compositions. A long-hours culture took hold. Modern piano students can spend six to eight hours a day tickling the ivories. Chopin recommended no more than three.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 232-233)

But this is going against the current, right? What is wrong with the changing musical tastes? Isn't that normal and even expected? That may be the case. However, a strong suspicion that we are taking things too far still lingers in the air:

This begs a question: If indeed we do play some classical music faster than our ancestors did, is that really such a bad thing? The world changes, and sensibilities change with it. There is no escaping the fact that we have learned to love a faster musical tempo. The twentieth century was all about boosting the beat, with rragtime giving way to rock 'n' roll, disco, speed metal and eventually techno. When Mike Jahn published How to Make a Hit Record in 1977, his advice to would-be pop stars was that 120 beats per minute was the optimum tempo for a dance track. Anything more than 135 beats per minute, he said, would appeal only to speed freaks. By the early 1990s, drum 'n' bass music and jungle music were belting along at 170 bears per minute. In 1993, Moby, a titan of techno, released what the Guinness Book of World Records anointed the fastest single of all time. "Thousand" clocked n at a dizzying 1,000 beats per minute, and reduced some listeners to tears.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 237-238)

Chapter ten, on raising an unhurried child, starts discussing the case of Harry Lewis, dean of the undergraduate school at Harvard University, who decided to write a letter, titled Slow Down, to welcome all new students to his university and warn them against taking on way too many courses and extracurricular activities:

Over seven pages, Lewis makes the case for getting more out of the university —and life— by doing less. He urges students to think twice before racing through their degrees. It takes time to master a subject, he says, pointing out that top medical, law and business schools increasingly favour mature candidates with more to offer than an "abbreviated and intense undergradutate education." Lewis warns against piling on too many extracurricular activities. What is the point, he asks, of playing lacrosse, chairing debates, organizing conferences, acting in plays and editing a section of the campus newspaper if you end up spending your whole Harvard career in overdrive, striving not to fall behind schedule? Much better to do fewer things and have time to make the most of them.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, p. 247)

There are also a few alternatives in this case, starting with the idea of homeschooling, which has been gaining adepts during the last few decades:

Parents choose to educate their offspring at home for a range of reasons —to shield them from bullying, drugs and other antisocial behaviour; to raise them in a particular religious or moral tradition; to give them a better education. But many see home-schooling as a way to free children from the tyranny of the timetable, to let them learn and live at their own pace. To let them be Slow. Even families that start off home-educating with a rigidly structured day usually end up taking a more fluid, freewheeling tack. On the spur of the moment, if the sun is shining, they might head off on a nature walk or to visit a museum. Earlier, we saw how having control over their own time makes people feel less rushed in the workplace. The same applies in education. Both parents and children report that the power to fix their own schedule, or choose their own tempo, helps to curb the hurry effect. "Once you control your own hours, the pressure to rush is much less." says a home educator in Vancouver. "You just automatically slow down."

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 262-263)

However, beyond homeschooling and how well the kids perform, we should consider something that is far more important. Are we perhaps so worried about our kids' future (i.e., about their ability to compete in a global economy where the bigger fish always eats the smaller fish) that we stress them (and ourselves) too much?

Whenever people talk of the need for children to slow down, play is always high on the agenda. Many studies show that unstructured time for play helps younger children develop their social and language skills, their creative powers and their ability to learn. Unstructured play is the opposite of "quality time," which implies industry, planning, scheduling and purpose. It is not a ballet lessons or a soccer practice. Unstructured play is digging for worms in the garden, messing about with toys in the bedroom, building castles with Lego, horsing around with other kids in the playground or just gazing out the window. It is about exploring the world, and your own reaction to it, at your own speed. To an adult used to making every second count, unstructured play looks like wasted time. And our reflex is to fill up those "empty" slots in the diary with entertaining and enriching activities.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 265-266)

And we return to the old beast: the television set:

The Barneses are now planning to cut back on the mother of all extracurricular activities: television. Earlier, I described cities as giant particle accelerators. It is a metaphor that can just as easily apply to TV, especially for the young. Television accelerates children's move into adulthood by exposing them to grown-up issues and turning them into consumers at a young age. Because kids watch it so much —up to four hours a day in the United States, on average— they have to rush to squeeze everything else into their schedules. In 2002, ten leading public health organizations, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, signed a letter warning that watching too much television makes youngsters more aggressive. A number of studies suggest that children exposed to violent TV or computer games are more likely to be restless and unable to sit still and concentrate.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 268-269)

When people asked me what is my secret to accomplish so much in the same amount of time that everybody else has, I always answer the same: the secret is not to watch TV. I have barely watched TV for decades now. I do watch movies and documentaries every now and then, but they are movies of my own choosing (not whatever this or that channel decides to show on a given day at a given time) and I always watch them online or on DVD. This way, I never have to waste time being brainwashed by stupid commercials. Although most people don't realize that, television is perhaps the worst time-sink in contemporary society. Just think about it, if the average American watches about 4 hours of TV every day (yes, time always flies when sitting in front of the tube, and we always think we watched far less time than that), that means that we wasted... 28 hours a week watching TV! That is almost three quarters of the time an average worker spends at their workplace!

Finally, Honoré closes the book with a short chapter dedicated to the conclusions where it suggests that we should try to find the tempo giusto:

But is the Slow movement really a movement? It certainly has all the ingredients that academics look for —popular sympathy, a blueprint for a new way of life, grassroots action. True, the Slow movement has no formal structure, and still suffers from low brand recognition. Many people slow down —working fewer hours, say, or finding time to cook— without feeling part of a global crusade. Yet every deceleration is grist to the mill.

Italy mey be the closest thing the Slow movement has to a spiritual home. With its emphasis on pleasure and leisure, the traditional Mediterranean way of life is a natural antidote to speed. Slow Food, Slow Cities and Slow Sex all have Italian roots. Yet the Slow movement is not about turning the whole planet into a Mediterranean holiday resort. Most of us do not wish to replace the cult of speed with the cult of slowness. Speed can be fun, productive and powerful, and what the Slow movement offers, is a middle path, a recipe for marrying la dolce vita with the dynamism of the information age. The secret is balance: instead of doing everyhing faster, do everything at the right speed. Sometimes fast. Sometimes slow. Sometimes somewhere in between. Being Slow means never rushing, never striving to save time just for the sake of it. It means remaining calm and unflustered even when circumstances force us to speed up. One way to cultivate inner Slowness is to make time for activities that defy acceleration —meditation, knitting, gardening, yoga, painting, reading, walking, Chi Kung.

There is no one-size-fits-all formular for slowing down, no universal guide to the right speed. Each person, act, moment has its own eigenzeit. Some people are happy living at a speed that would send the rest of us to an early grave. Everyone must have the right to choose the pace that makes them happy. As Uwe Kliemt, the Tempo Giusto pianist, says, "The world is a richer place when we make room for different speeds."

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, pp. 274-275)

Now, is the Slow movement in contradiction with capitalism? Not according to the author:

The Slow movement certainly implies a questioning of the untrammelled materialism that drives the global economy. This is why critics think we cannot afford it, or that slowing down will remain a lifestyle for the rich. It is true that some manifestations of the Slow philosophy —alternative medicine, pedestrianized neighborhoods, free-range beef— do not fit every budget. But most do. Spending more time with friends and family costs nothing. Nor does walking, cooking, meditating, making love, reading or eating dinner at a table instead of in front of the television. Simply resisting the urge to hurry is free.

Nor is the Slow movement inimical to capitalism. On the contrary, it offers it a lifeline. In its current form, global capitalism forces us to manufacture faster, work faster, consume faster, live faster, no matter what the cost. By treating people and the environment as valuable assets, rather than as disposable inputs, a Slow alternative could make the economy work for us, rather than vice versa. Slow capitalism might mean lower growth, a tough sell in a world obsessed with the Dow Jones index, but the notion that there is more to life than maximizing GDP, or winning the rat race, is gaining currency, especially in richer nations, where more and more people are considering the high cost of their frenetic lives.

(Carl Honoré: In Praise of Slowness, p. 278)

Yet, I strongly disagree with Honoré on this one. Is he truly telling us that a system whose overarching objective is to increase profit and guarantee the endless accumulation of capital is capable of "treating people and the environment as valuable assets, rather than as disposable inputs"? Really? How, exactly? What form capitalism is one that is not "obsessed with the Dow Jones index", that thinks that "there is more to life than maximizing GDP" or "winning the rat race"? I simply cannot see how any of those objectives could be reached within the mental framework of capitalism.

Overall, it is clear that Honoré is a journalist by trade. The whole book reads like a lng report written for a special issue of Time magazine. It's more or less entertaining, and pretty decent as an introduction to the topic. However, it is quite superficial, it does not spend enough telling us about the philosophical underpinnings of the whole mental change that it discusses and, above all, it fails to analyze how it could be done in today's society. In conclusion, In Praise of Slowness is a good journalistic introduction to the topic, but it ultimately falls short if the reader is looking for any sort of in-depth discussion of the Slow movement and all its ramifications.

Entertainment Factor 6/10
Intellectual Factor: 5/10