Amazing to think the Slow Movement is now 34 years old. It’s crawled at a tortoise rather than a hare’s pace to get to the present day but remains fighting fit. Slow began with Carlo Petrini’s protest against the opening of a McDonald’s restaurant in Piazza di Spagna, Rome that sparked the creation of the slow food movement. Over time, this developed into a subculture in other areas, like the Cittaslow organisation for “slow cities.” The “slow” epithet has subsequently been applied to a variety of activities and aspects of culture. You can even think slow – i.e methodically and carefully rather than blurting out the first thought that comes into your head.
Slow’s bible was Carl Honore’s book In Praise of Slow (2005) which tends to sit in the self-help section of most bookstores, along with Who
Moved My Cheese? The gathering rebellion that it described is likely to grow in strength further in the West as a result not only of climate change and COVID but also in response of the ubiquity of digital devices and the always-on culture. We predict it will continue to have a profound effect on customer and staff behaviour for many businesses – not just those engaged in the production of fast food.
It has been described as the No Logo of its age, but it’s far more compelling and intelligent than that, and a necessary addition to the reading list of marketing, HR and new product development departments. We all know that the world moves faster and faster each year. Time and tide waits for no person. Technology makes things happen quicker and quicker: we find information via the broadband web in seconds that would have taken days 20 years ago; we make TV suppers in the microwave in two minutes flat; we make and lose millions in weeks, sometimes minutes. These days, you are quick or you are dead.
As Honore wrote: ‘The clock is the operating system of modern capitalism, the thing that makes everything else possible – meetings, deadlines, contracts, manufacturing processes, schedules, transport, working shifts. And in the search for increased efficiency and therefore profit, everything has to be done faster.’ Or does it? Honore argues that speed is often at the expense of quality and high margins. A slow future for Suffolk makes plenty of sense. The different pace of life is what attracts many Down From Londons but it does not have to be a life philosophy of interlopers – it’s sustainable for all. Neither does it mean a future that lacks energy – just differently applied.
Slow was preceded by the horrors of Eric Schlosser’s seminal Fast Food Nation and Honore reminded us that 200 years ago the average pig took five years to reach 130 pounds, whereas today it hits 220 pounds aged six months and is slaughtered before it loses its baby teeth. How prescient was the legendary French gastronome Brillat-Savarin when he pronounced two centuries ago that ‘the destiny of nations depends on the manner in which they feed themselves’.
In his chapter ‘Mind/Body: Mens Sana in Corpore Sano’, Honore, a North American now resident in Britain, is persuasive in questioning the way we have been conditioned to think in the workplace, where we are bombarded with mental stimulation: ‘Reaction, rather than reflection, is the order of the day.’ The true eureka moments come from Slow Thinking, which is woolly, intuitive and creative. There’s little doubt that those economies that will survive and prosper in the 21st century are those with plenty of slower thinkers on board.
Not everyone is convinced by the Slow Way. Doesn’t capitalism, query sceptics, in practice depend on the Type A personality – that unholy soup of competitive urgency, impatience, restlessness and short attention span? What Honore would say is not that he’s advocating doing everything at a snail’s pace or a return to an idyllic pre-industrial age, but that it’s all about balance, the tempo giusto, or right speed – ‘Fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed, superficial, impatient, active, quantityover-quality,” he wrote. “Slow is the opposite: calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, patient, reflective, quality-over-quantity.’ But his research is thorough and highly persuasive, and it’s hard to dispute some of his conclusions. Who, for example, would dare disagree with a mind like Einstein’s, when he declared: ‘Computers are incredibly fast, accurate, and stupid. Human beings are incredibly slow, inaccurate and brilliant. Together, they are powerful beyond imagination.’