We like to think we’re hard-wired for speed.
Listen to us: “Time is money.” “This site is taking forever to load.” “The wait for a table is how long?”
Speed means progress and efficiency. Speed feels powerful. Right?
Not so fast.
The Slow Movement, once about only food, is ambling into other aspects of life with slow travel, slow books, slow cities, slow crafts, slow money, slow coffee. In Norway, they make the most of slow winter.
The common goal? Recapturing connections that have suffered with speed.
Slowing down isn’t easy. Our love affair with urgency is passionate, and no wonder: A fast-paced life can make us feel indispensable, as if we can’t possibly satisfy all who want a piece of us unless we keep moving. Tick-tock!
In Thomas Friedman’s new bestseller, “Thank You for Being Late,” he examines the consequences of living in an “age of acceleration.” Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and native of St. Louis Park, makes the case that human beings’ usual capacity for adapting to change is being outpaced by advances in technology and in the marketplace, and the consequences of climate change.
We feel unmoored and overwhelmed as we strive to keep up. Friedman’s advice?
In a time of accelerated action, he writes, “opting to pause and reflect, rather than panic or withdraw, is a necessity. It is not a luxury or a distraction — it is a way to increase the odds that you’ll better understand, and engage productively with, the world around you.”
The Slow Movement isn’t about shirking our responsibilities, but finding a less hectic and more thoughtful way of doing things.
Like making pasta sauce.
That’s how the Slow Movement began, back in 1986 when McDonald’s wanted to open a fast-food franchise near Rome’s famed Spanish Steps. Some Italians were appalled and gathered for a protest. But instead of waving signs, they passed a bowl of pasta. No to burgers, yes to Bolognese!
Slow Food officially was founded in Italy three years later (took their time, right?) with the goal of nurturing local food traditions and people’s interest in where their food comes from.
From its manifesto: “We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods. A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life.”
Granted, a little preachy. But its intentions were pure: to nurture conviviality in cooking and sharing meals with others.
Today, there are more than 100,000 Slow Food members in chapters, or convivia, around the world.
A movement without leaders
The Slow Movement has no executive director, no dues-paying members. It’s spread by an array of blogs, Facebook pages and websites about the good life, the slow life, the examined life.
Yet the movement does have a persuasive spokesperson in Carl Honoré, a Canadian journalist now living in London who wrote a 2004 bestseller, “In Praise of Slow.”
Honoré’s TED talk has had more than 2 million views. He has described the Slow Movement as “a loose and international effort by the harried and haggard to decelerate the pace of their lives.”
While we think of pace in terms of fast or slow, Honoré says that it’s more of a philosophy of life. From his book:
“Fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed, superficial, impatient, active, quantity-over-quality. Slow is the opposite: calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, patient, reflective, quality-over-quantity. It is about making real and meaningful connections — with people, culture, work, food, everything.”
So how does this happen in daily life? Consider the premise of Minneapolis’ Misfit Coffee, which operates out of a food truck in the summer and at Izzy’s Ice Cream in the winter. Its menu is clear: Craft coffees take anywhere from three to five minutes to prepare.
“You’re going back in time,” founder and owner Marcus Parkansky said of the pour-over process that revisits old, pre-Keurig techniques.
The barista begins by wetting a cone of coffee grounds with a small amount of steaming water and letting the grounds “bloom” for at least 30 seconds. Then more water is poured on slowly and methodically, moving in concentric circles. This may take several minutes. Really.
While waiting, a few customers revert to their phones, but not nearly as many as you’d think, Parkansky said. Some chat with others in line, or with the barista pouring those concentric circles. Some people just savor the pause.
“We like to offer this Zen-like experience in the middle of the honking and sirens,” Parkansky said. “Other times we’ll be here in the coffee trailer, jamming out to some tunes, doing what we can do to change the atmosphere of people’s days.”
He understands why coffee, and life, accelerated.
“It’s a matter of convenience. Everyone’s lives got quicker with technology, with automobiles. With the amount of tasks that humans have to juggle year after year, century after century, it only makes sense to get faster.”
Yet once people have the experience of finding time on their hands — even if it’s only four unencumbered minutes — they get hooked.
“First-timers might say, ‘Wow, why did I wait four minutes?’ But then they come back, and they keep coming back,” Parkansky said. “It’s like a bell rings in their heads to come here and wait.”
Come winter, some Minnesotans think they’re poster children for the Slow Movement.
And they’re not happy.
The end of daylight saving time plunges us into darkness. Temperatures fall, along with snow. We crave sun and begrudge ice. We walk slower and drive slower and wake up reluctantly. If we bond, it’s over whining about how slow winter is passing.
It’s a different matter in Tromsø, a small Norwegian island north of the Arctic Circle where the Polar Night lasts from November to January. (To them, we might as well be in the Bahamas.)
In 2015, a social psychologist wrote an article for the Atlantic about how the residents stave off seasonal depression and if those strategies could be applied elsewhere.
What Kari Leibowitz discovered was that, far from dreading the slow, dark “days,” residents embraced them as koselig, or Norwegian for “cozy.” Candles were everywhere, in homes, cafes, even offices. The town glowed.
Residents got outside to hike or to go to cabins or to ski to work. They gathered for potlucks. They threw festivals. Life moved more slowly, but it was no less fulfilling, and actually more fun than the summer months.
Mostly, she learned, residents considered the Polar Night “no big deal.” The standard questionnaires she used regarding seasonal affective disorder were ineffective, because the questionnaires asked only about negative outcomes, never positive ones.
Leibowitz realized she was seeing the results of having the right mind-set. In brief, complaints fuel discontent. Enjoyment nurtures happiness.
She was quick to note that people with clinical seasonal depression cannot “magically cure themselves by adjusting their mind-set.” Still, she wrote, “mind-set may play a role in seasonal well-being.”
One quick example: A friend refused to call the Polar Night the mørketid, or “dark time.” Instead she referred to it as the “Blue Time” for the luminous shades of blue that tinged the sky and snow and lights.
Sure, it’s January. But Blue Time sounds kind of cool.
Finding the right speed
Right about now, one word may be lurking in your mind: Seriously?
To parents of youngsters juggling hockey practice, homework projects and hamburger patties, slowing down may seem a fantasy. To someone holding down three jobs just to make rent, the idea of “decelerating” verges on precious. To anyone climbing a corporate ladder, the option of pausing sounds like lunacy.
In “In Praise of Slow,” Honoré made the case that the Slow Movement doesn’t mean “doing everything at a snail’s pace,” but rather finding the right speed at which to do something.
“The movement is made up of people who want to live better in a fast-paced, modern world,” he wrote. In other words: Find the balance. “Be fast when it makes sense to be fast, and be slow when slowness is called for. Seek to live at what musicians call the tempo giusto — the right speed.”
Balance is something that Britt Udesen thinks about as executive director of the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Because words help make thoughtful sense of a rapidly changing world, there’s a need to be both fast and slow.
“One of the things that’s so great about literature is that it’s fast and responsive,” Udesen said, “but also gives us the opportunity to sit with ideas and our thoughts.”
A few years ago, the Loft was name-checked along with its neighbors, the Minnesota Center for Books Arts and Milkweed Editions, in a blog about the Slow Movement. A New York Times article told of how Washington Avenue, once primed be to a technology corridor, instead became home to these booky groups that revitalized what had been a sketchy stretch of street.
By the blogger’s definition, slow won!
While Udesen doesn’t align the Loft with the Slow Movement, she sees its value.
“We’re all trying to figure this out,” she said of reconciling routines with reflection. “While it’s true that when we’re in line at Target half of us are on phones looking at pictures, there’s also a huge movement toward meditation.
“I mean, I’m a knitter, and it’s interesting that that’s become a trendy thing to do, a way to engage with materials,” she said. She’s right: Slow knitting is huge.
So maybe there’s something to sitting down with a ball of yarn and a cup of pour-over coffee on a wintry blue Minnesota night.
What could it hurt?