Stop! Stop the rushing, racing, elbowing to compete in a hyper-wired world whose mantra is to move fast, whatever the direction.
That is the message the “slow movement” has been gently spreading for more than two decades.
“In this roadrunner world, it can sometimes feel like there is no option but to follow the hurrying herd, but there is,” said Carl Honore, whose 2004 book on the movement, In Praise of Slowness, became an international bestseller.
It all started in Italy, with a protest against the opening of a McDonalds’ restaurant led by Carlo Petrini, who went on to launch a movement devoted to “good, clean and fair” food.
Since then Slow Food — as it became known — has spread to 130 countries and spawned countless sister trends around the world, from slow cities to slow money, slow design, slow travel and even slow sex.
There is also slow parenting — the simple art of taking time for one’s children — and slow wear, which promotes sustainable clothes, all carrying a common message into every corner of our lives, winning millions of followers around the world.
“The slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace,” Honore said in an interview. “It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow and sometimes completely still.”
When the slow guru gave a talk about the philosophy last year, a priest in the audience came up to him afterward and confessed he had just had a revelation: “Lately I have been praying too fast.”
After two decades spent watching the movement grow, Honore now believes it is only a matter of time before it hits the mainstream: “We are at a historical turning point,” he said.
Even high-tech firms — after decades spent driving the acceleration of the global economy — are now recognizing its ill-effects, leading Google, IBM and others to launch a research group into information overload.
Studies by Microsoft and Hewlett Packard, quoted by the movement, indicate modern-day office work with its constant interruptions — by e-mails, phones, text messages — can temporarily slice 10 points off a person’s IQ.
An IBM manager recently launched what he called “slow e-mail” to encourage staffers to use the medium better.
In another sign of the times, British Prime Minister David Cameron has banned cellphones — whether smart or not — from his Cabinet meetings to keep ministers focused on the task at hand.
London-based research estimated that about 20 million people in Europe were ready to give back a chunk of their wages, in exchange for a slice of extra time to relax and spend with their families.
“Speed helped the world tip into modernity two centuries ago, but now it may be driving it into the abyss,” the German philosopher Hartmut Rosa wrote in a recent book.
Slow advocates see the global economic crisis — caused in their view by an obsession with fast growth, fast consumption and fast profits — as the latest validation of their worldview.
“In India, despite the rise of unbridled capitalism, there is a real debate about the dangers of speed. People are not happy about losing their family ties, neglecting their elders,” Honore said.
Even in speed-driven Japan, where there is a word — karoshi — for death through overwork, the Sloth Club was created a few years ago to lift people out of the go-fast culture.