We live in the age of speed. We strain to be more efficient, to cram more into each minute, each hour, each day. Since the Industrial Revolution shifted the world into high gear, the cult of speed has pushed us to a breaking point.
In Praise of Slowness traces the history of our increasingly breathless relationship with time and tackles the consequences of living in this accelerated culture of our own creation.
The Annual Conference of the Society for the Deceleration of Time
Wagrain, a resort town nestled deep in the Autrian Alps, moves at a slow pace. People come here to escape the hurly-burly of Salzburg and Vienna. In the summer, they hike the wooded trails and picnic beside mountain streams. When the snow falls, they ski through the forests, or down the steep, powdery slopes. Whatever the season, the Alpine air fills the lungs with the promise of a good night’s sleep back in the chalet.
Once a year, though, this small town does more than just live at a slow pace. It becomes a launch pad for the Slow Philosophy. Every October, Wagrain hosts the annual conference of the society of the Deceleration of Time.
What does it mean to be a member?
Based in the Austrian city of Klagenfurt, and boasting a membership that stretches across central Europe, the society is a leader in the Slow Movement. Its more than one thousand members are foot soldiers in the war against the cult of doing everything faster.
In daily life, that means slowing down when it makes sense to do so. If a Society Member is a doctor, he might insist on taking more time to chat to his patients. A management consultant could refuse to answer work calls on the weekend. A designer might cycle to meetings instead of driving.
The Decelerators use a German word–eigenzeit–to sump up their creed. Eigen means “own” and zeit means “time”. In other words, every living being, event, process or object has its own inherent time or pace, its own tempo giusto.
To what extent is slowing down a luxury for the affluent?
A big question that the Slow movement must answer.
These days many people are seeking refuge from speed in the safe harbor of spirituality. Buddhism is booming across the West, as are bookstores, chat rooms and healing centres dedicated to the eclectic, metaphysical doctrines of New Ageism. All of this makes sense at a time when people crave slowness. The spirit, by its very nature, is Slow. No matter how hard you try, you cannot accelerate englightenment.
If they are to make any headway at all, pro-Slow campaigners must root out the deep prejudice agains the very idea of slowing down. In many quarters, “slow” remains a dirty word. Just look at how the Oxford English Dictionary defines it,
“Not understanding readily, dull, uninteresting, not learning easily, tedious, slack, sluggish.”
Hardly the sort of stuff you would put on your CV. In our hyped-up, faster-is-better culture, a turbocharged life is still the ultimate trophy on the mantelpiece.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of the Slow movement will be to fix our neurotic relationship with time itself. To teach us, in the words of Golda Meir, the former Israeli leader, how to “…govern the clock, not be governed by it.”