Speed up or get out of the way, an Op-Ed for the New York Times

Source: pixabay.com

OVIEDO, Spain — Last week, a group of “slow” Italians sauntered onto Union Square in New York to preach the benefits of Slow Living to speedy New Yorkers. According to a Reuters report, the Italian group, the Association of Slow Living, was holding its annual Slow Living Festival in the center of the fastest city in the world.

They distributed their “slowmandements,” which advised New Yorkers to stop and ponder, to play games and to refrain from abbreviating when sending text messages, among other things. In short, slow down to live better.

With empathetic sincerity, I paused and I pondered: Were I a New Yorker would I really live a better life if I took it slow?

Slow lifers are adamant that if I would only slow down I could break free of the frenzy of “external events and trends” that disorient me and make me forget who I really am and what I really want.

There is nothing at all wrong with this advice. After all, the Slow people are talking about something that also concerns me: authenticity.

Authenticity refers to the degree to which we live according to our true personality and character–that is, the degree to which we are true to ourselves. To be sure, speeding along in New York could very easily make me forget my authentic self.

But Paul Virilio, the philosopher who revealed that speed is a phenomenon of modern life, said that quick movers will dominate slow movers.

It is nature’s law that if something can go fast it will. If we can do something faster, we will. In fact, we are.

Some of us can fire off a mobile phone text message at the speed of light, but Slow lifers are saying we should stop abbreviating and get into the habit of starting messages with “Dear…” But this particular piece of advice is based on an incorrect understanding the nature of the text messaging and hence completely invalid.

Mobile phone texts are sent via the SMS, or Short Messaging Service, which typically allows for approximately 160 characters or less per message, which we pay to send. The abbreviations and symbols we use are products of these limitations and part of its natural form, just as long-winded, perfumed letters were the natural mode of communication of bygone eras. How else to pass the time?

As for playing games, we are! We’re just not slowing down to play them, and we aren’t leaving our computers either. Take chess, slow and ponderous. Now think online. Facebook.com’s new chess application allows one to play multiple chess games, while concurrently playing other games, social networking, messaging, and (god forbid!) working.

Let’s leave aside for just a moment whether our lives are better or worse for speeding up. Virilio maintains that the speed at which something occurs changes its very nature. Apply this theory to online chess games and we may conclude that, for better or worse, they are simply different types of games.

But Slow lifers insist on slowing down in favor of quality, not quantity. Indeed, however confident we are about our speedy multitasking accomplishments, research studies reveal again and again that multitaskers simply do not function well doing more than one thing at a time. It seems our brains bottleneck when switching between tasks and we experience a significant mental delay before we can focus on a second task.

But hold on, Slow lifers. This cannot mean that I should slow down. Surely I should be learning how to better speed up? We are, after all, living on the frontier of the digital age. We are taking our first primitive steps toward overcoming our mental limits as we evolve toward living and functioning in exquisite collaboration with these digital devices.

The Slow movement is asking us to go backward when we should really be racing with anticipation toward a future when we will be performing not only faster, but better. Instead of “delighting” in thinking about nothing, as their “slowmandements” suggest, we should speed-surf over to Oxford’s Institute for the Future of the Mind Web site, for example, to devour information on research on how digital technologies will influence (and improve) our cognitive abilities in the future.

Fast cities will always provide opportunities for slowing down: a traffic jam, a line at the bank, computer downtime. In such cases, we should not be frustrated at the sudden slowness, but seize the opportunity to ponder our lives.

There is no time to waste.

Kathryn Koromilas is a freelance writer who spent 7 years living slowly in rural Greece. She’s now back in the city.


This is a unique website which will require a more modern browser to work!

Please upgrade today!