The man who learned to slow down
Heard of slow food, slow cities or slow sex? Nor had Carl HonorÃ© until he wrote a best-selling book about them. Jim Pollard met the self-confessed speed-junkie a couple of months ago and has finally got round to writing his notes up.
'It all began three years ago. I was a card-carrying speedaholic. Even when I was reading bed-time stories to my two year-old I'd miss bits out just to get it done more quickly. The kid kept picking me up. It became a battle of wills. One day I was reading a magazine in the airport and I read about these one-minute bedtime stories you could buy. I was delighted. It was exactly what I'd been looking for. But then I stopped. I realised what it meant about me and my attitude to my child. It was moment of truth. I realised that speed had taken over my life. I got on the plane and just did nothing.'
Carl HonorÃ© is the author of 'In Praise of Slow', the book that was published amid great furore in the US and UK earlier this year. HonorÃ© met and joined in with people from various walks of life who were taking the speed out of their lives and living better as a result. From food to sex, work to leisure, he called the resulting book a 'wake-up call to a world obsessed with going faster.' It was, ironically, one of the fastest selling books by a new author ever.
Whether you really need a book to tell you that sex is better if you slow down or that taking holidays in which you forget all about work is a good idea is a moot point. Certainly you could argue that there's little practical in it that would surprise readers in continental Europe where the working hours are shorter, lunch is sacred and people apologise if they call you after 8pm. But what is indubitably interesting is the journey of its author, a 30-something Scottish-born Canadian journalist living in London.
'I approached this project with a detached journalist's scepticism,' he says, 'but my life has been transformed unexpectedly. My attitude to parenting has totally changed. I'm 36 but we're seeing people even younger than me grapple with this. Adolescents are burning out now and people are downshifting in their early 20s. Kids are scheduled to within an inch of their lives.
'Today I take more pleasure in things. I'm just there in the moment and not itching to go faster. All the research shows that we should get away from brainstorming to layered, more nuanced ways of being. I don't know if I'm a better worker now but I get more out of it than I did before. I don't mind taking a time-out even during a deadline crisis. It helps me. If you're more confident about time, you're more confident about what you're doing with it. It makes you calmer and more productive.
'Men have this macho thing that busy is better but really speed is just a form of denial. It stops you having to think about the big questions in life. The thrust of the book is that speed is unhealthy and unsatisfying, both for the individual and society. Turbo-capitalism is chewing up the world's resources and that needs to slow down too.'
Sounds great, Carl, but how do you slow down in practice when the boss is breathing down your neck like a hawk with halitosis?
'There's a misconception that the slow movement is anti-modern, anti-technology and anti-success. It's not. I still live in London and work in the media. And it's not about doing everything more slowly. It's about striking a balance. If you work at your own tempo, you'll have an inner calm even during the fast moments. Letting employees work more slowly and take breaks is definitely good for the bottom line.
'No. It's not anti-modern. I don't want to turn everything into 1950's Italy,' he adds with the ease of a man who has either never seen or has forgotten Sophia Loren in Too Bad, She's Bad (1955).
'Just do a little bit less. Learn to prioritise. The average Brit watches three and a half hours of TV a day so you can easily create a lot of time by cutting that back. Unplug from time to time. Turn off the telephone. Unplug the laptop. Seek out moments when you're off the grid. Don't always be available. We've become like those televisions that you can't switch off. The best starting point is simply to monitor your own speed. I found I was even eating dinner as if on a deadline.'
Cyncis might say it's easy to slow down if you've got money but most people have to rush around just to make ends meet. Carl is aware of this. He cites a woman who called when he was on a radio talk-show in Baltimore. 'She was doing three jobs but when she found herself having to call her daughter from work to wish her happy birthday she decided she had to slow-down whatever the cost. It can be done.'
The book also doesn't avoid the political implications of slowness, weaving in all sorts of interesting facts. In the UK, for example, in 2003, 60% of UK workers didn't expect to use their annual holiday entitlement. The Japanese have a word for death by overwork — Karoshi. And three-quarters of American men reach orgasm within two minutes of penetration.
Change is, of course, slow - however good the intentions. During his research for the book, Carl got a speeding ticket in Italy. 'I still love sport,' he says, 'but I've cut out the tennis. Now I only play squash, ice hockey and go running.' Just the thought of it sounds exhausting. Think I'll go for a lie-down.
- Click here to buy In Praise of Slow from the malehealth bookshop. Hardback only. The paperback isn't out until August 2005. Now that's slow.
- There's also an In Praise of Slow website
- And for more on the way Americans are slowing down, have a look at the Center for the New American Dream website.
Jim Pollard is editor of malehealth.
Page created on October 1st, 2004
Page updated on December 1st, 2009