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Slow down. It's healthy for you.
on July 1, 2014
The title of this book is somewhat misleading because the author is not in favor of being slow, but of slowing down, which is not necessarily the same thing. The premise of the book is that our society is obsessed with speed. As a result our lives have become insufferably hectic and busy. We are under overt and subtle pressure to do as many things as possible. The only way to do them all is to rush through them, thus the obsession with speed. The problem is that as everyone speeds up, what was once fast becomes normal, and so we have to speed up again. Of course, eventually society will reach a point (I think that we had already or we are very close to it) when going even faster will become physically impossible. There is only so much that human beings can take before they burn out and collapse. But that is a poor consolation. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a world that wants to get even more frantic and hectic but it cannot because it had already reached its limits.
A word has to be given on what in this book is meant by “slow” and “fast.” Fast can mean fast, like driving cars dangerously fast (we get a chapter on that in the book), but generally speaking “fast” is a synonym for intensity and overworking. Take office workers (there is a chapter on that too) as example. Physically, they do not work faster than office workers in past generations. But because they are burdened with a much heavier workload, they have to work long hours past the time they should be back home. Forget 9 to 5. Now it is often 9 to 8 or even 9 to 10.
Similarly, “slow” does not have to mean slow in the physical sense of that word. Slow means working at a pace that is comfortable for you. You can still work hard and fast at what you do, but you should also work at a pace that is optimal for you and you should devote only as many hours to it as you feel comfortable.
Other than the introduction, the author does not talk much about where the cult of speed had come from. I find it regrettable because the topic is of interest to me. The author says that the cult of speed essentially emerged in the 19th century with the rise of factories and modern capitalism. Because workers were paid per hour and not per product, management wanted to squeeze as much productivity from them as possible by making them work even faster. A worker who makes thirty radios per hour gets paid as much as the worker who makes ten radios per hour, but now his bosses have three times as many radios to sell and make profit from.
Why I do agree that industrialization was no doubt a factor, I think that there is more to that story. I wish that the author had devoted more space to exploring this topic.
The bulk of the book is about different areas of human life and different people and groups who are fighting to slow things down. I won’t go over them all. There is not enough space for that. We get a discussion of such things as slower medicine, raising kids in a more relaxed manner, creating cities with less traffic, slower and better sex, slow cuisine and eating, etc. All of these things are interesting and they gave me ideas on how to slow down in certain areas of my own life.
The problem with this advice, and the author admits that this is a problem, is that all these “slow down” activities appear to be mainly for the rich and the middle class. For example, there is a chapter about slowing down in the office. It is not strictly about office work, but all of it is about white collar type of workplaces. How about slowing down at McDonalds or Walmart? I had a number of low-wage blue collar jobs in my life and I can tell you that if you go to see your boss and talk about slowing down, this probably is going to be your last day working in that place.
Another example, the author meets and talks a lot with the people involved in the slow movement. Without exception, all of them are white collar professionals. He attends workshops, clubs, meetings and gatherings. At no point does he meet there someone coming from the working class (i.e. poor). Or at least he never mentions it. All these people are middle class people.
Still, a lot of the advice in the book can be used by everyone. For example, the author talks about cutting down on TV and instead spending more time with friends and family. Yes, I know that when you come back home after a long day of work you are exhausted and want to crash on the couch and let your brain go for a walk while you watch some idiocy on the TV. Been there, done that. But if you actually make the effort to spend that time on meeting with other people (provided that these are people whom you like, of course), you will soon feel fresh energy and feel relaxed and happy.
Besides, even if the slow movement is a middle class thing, it might eventually trigger changes that will trickle down and spread out to all levels of society. Of course, opponents will immediately say that if you do that, the economy will collapse. The author does address this critique.
For one, obsession with speed is causing the economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year. Think about all the car accidents caused by speeding or all the health problems caused by stress and overwork. Not to mention that rushing often results in end product that is of shoddy quality, which in turn results in customer complaints, recalls and need for corrections that cost businesses more in the long run than had they taken things easy.
Also, slowing down would mean more time for leisure. Leisure will create new job opportunities. For example, if people spend less time driving and more time walking in a park, that will create demand for people to design, build and maintain parks. If people start going more to various workshops, then someone will have to run these workshops.
But the fact is that no matter how you slice and dice it, capitalism won’t be able to maintain current levels of profit and growth. But so what? What is so great about growth and profits anyway? Just look at the state of the world. For the past few decades we had steady growth and profits. Individual corporations might fail and go bankrupt, but overall they are making a killing and their economic, social and political power is steadily on the increase. So what? The ecosystem is dying, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and we have to work ever harder to maintain the same standard of living. In the Bible there is a passage where Jesus says that Sabbath was made for the people and not the people for the Sabbath. Is the economy supposed to serve the people, or are we supposed to sacrifice our health and happiness for the economy?
Please, slow down.