Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Slow is Beautiful

It is not often that I think I am going to die. One of those moments came about a decade ago, when I was awoken with a sharp pain in my chest. Despite the passage of much time, I still remember the sensation. At the time I thought it was not unlike molten metal dripping onto me. A quick call was made to some friends. I was rushed to hospital. The pain became even worse. The doctors couldn't make up their minds. Fortunately one of them decided I needed a shot of morphine. People often talk of cutting through pain, but I could feel the morphine cutting through. Hey I could begin to enjoy this stuff.
After ten days in hospital (with the doctors no clearer on what had happened) I returned home to try and piece my life together. Through the haze of prescribed sedatives, I discovered no less than fifteen boarding cards in my bedroom- all of them issued within ten days of my hospitalisation. I had apparently been to London, Karachi, Milan, Dubai, Amsterdam and a host of other cities. Epiphany. I decided I would never rush to anything again. Ever. It's a promise I've breached often enough, but I know I'm doing it. There's a deep inner voice telling me to slow down. Last time round there was none.
With this frame of reference, I set about reading Carl Honore's In Praise of Slow. I must point out, at the very outset, that this is not a self help book. Honore is a journalist with a story to tell and some interesting anecdotes to spice things up with. There's no road map telling one how exactly one should practice what the book preaches. What does Slow preach? That there is a growing emphasis on moving faster. That faster does not always equate with better. That, in many instances, faster equates with worse. In my own working life, I've seen time take over from quality in many instances. When I first started working there was neither email nor fax. (Yes, I am that old!) A rickety old telex machine (manufactured by the Karl Marx Telex Company of East Berlin) would churn out the odd international message, but there was a limit on the amount of information it could contain. With the advent of email, I am now expected to react to volumes of information in no time at all. It just doesn't work. The best I can do is acknowledge receipt and give a reasonable time frame to react. If I am pressed to react faster I will, secure in the knowledge that I am giving a second or third rate product because of the time constraint.
Honore looks at the disastrous consequences of speed in several facets of life. Work is the most obvious. Then there's "slow food" which entails cooking real food with real ingredients which have grown in a real (and therefore slow) growth environment. No force fed chicken or genetically modified lettuce here. Interestingly enough, he confesses to getting a speeding ticket on his way to a slow food conference. Then there's slow sex. I've always thought my sex was slow enough (if not of Tantric slowness) so I glossed over this one. And then there are "slow cities", "slow architecture" and even "slow" days. There's even "slow music" where Honore debates whether modern conductors of classical music have really figured out the tempo at which the music was originally intended to have been played.
One of Honore's observations on the cult of slowness is the recurrence of pastimes which were once considered passe. These include (gasp!) reading which he classifies as a "slow" activity as opposed to, say, video games which are, by their very nature, "fast." He cites the Harry Potter phenomenon as illustrative of the return to books. I've often cribbed that it takes me ages to finish a book. To me, the process of reading consists of chewing over, ruminating, rereading sentences and chapters, mentally noting anything worthwhile. I am intrigued by people who effortlessly turn page after page of their books. (Actually, I'm intrigued by people who bother to read in the 21st century, but that's another story.) I suppose much has to do with the kind of book one is reading. Poetry, I would imagine, is slower reading than prose. A thriller is a "page turner" while a tome on philosophy or metaphysics requires a little more reverence.
Honore's epiphany came when he thought of ordering "one minute" bedtime stories for his children because he became impatient with the long stories they asked him to read-or reread. Mine came when I ended up in a hospital bed on a morphine high. Having transformed myself from Uberhare to Ubertortoise I'm in no tearing rush to change that.


Blogger say what? said...

Isnt it funny, our conveniences have plagued our life style. Everyone was carefree, then hurry was invented for business and now the nerves are so used to the quick stuff, anything slow is nauseous.

10:21 am  
Blogger rocky said...

i love your comment regarding e-mail. i face the exact same problem with my clients who expect me to react within 10 seconds of receiving the information i need, even though it takes at least 24 to 48 hours to get back to them with what they need.

it is SO frustrating!

it's funny though, i was thinking yesterday about how blessed i am to live in the middle east, a notoriously lazy country. i know that as you go west or grow more westernized, it's unbelievable how hurried THEY are or even how much more paranoid. i don't think i'd be able to handle it.

this actually reminds me of this fantastic film i watched last year: KOYAANISQATSI (this word comes from the Hopi language and means life out of balance or a state of life that calls for another way of living).

it has no words, no real plot, just a series of images that manage to convey so much more than most conventional films have. it shows how humans have destroyed nature, are rushing everywhere, building, constructing, destructing, how there's only routine, endless routine...

10:46 am  
Blogger rocky said...

sorry, that was an unbelievably long and pointless comment - i'm going on only two hours of sleep. yes, thats my excuse and i'm sticking to it!

10:51 am  
Anonymous boibunnie said...

uber used to like everything fast aye ;)

11:24 am  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

In my haste to write the blog, I actually put the title down as "In Praise Of Speed." Thank you all for not pointing it out to me!

12:26 pm  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

Rocky: It was neither unbelievably long nor tedious! Stream of consciousness encouraged on this site!

1:58 pm  
Blogger Hypocrisy Thy Name said...

They say "Slow and Steady wins the race". Actually it is not the Slow but the Steady who wins the race, but haste makes waste.

10:19 pm  
Anonymous Sin said...

You should subscribe to "The Idler", a UK magazine published by a man from Devon, or instead, pickup a copy of "How to Be Idle". Highly recommended.

6:41 pm  

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