About Carl Honoré:
Carl Honoré is a bestselling author, broadcaster and the voice of the Slow Movement. His two main-stage TED Talks have racked up millions of views. Carl’s first book, In Praise of Slow, chronicles the global trend toward putting on the brakes in everything from work to food to parenting. The Financial Times said it is “to the Slow Movement what Das Kapital is to communism.” Carl’s second book, Under Pressure explores how to raise and educate children in a fast world while his third book The Slow Fix, explores how to tackle complex problems in every walk of life, from health and relationships to business and politics, without falling for superficial, short-term quick fixes. Carl’s latest book, Bolder: Making The Most Of Our Longer Lives, explores ageing – how we can do it better and feel better about doing it. It’s a spirited manifesto against ageism. Published in 35 languages, his books have landed on bestseller lists in many countries. (Source: https://www.carlhonore.com/bio/)
In Praise of Slowness – A Summary
Published in 2004, the book brings together primary and secondary research and personal storytelling to speak to a question that lies at the heart of the book: “Why are we always in such a rush? What is the cure for time-sickness? Is it possible, or even desirable, to slow down?’”. It’s a question that Honoré has examined through the course of this book which has also made him a powerful voice of the Slow Movement, the central philosophy of which he says can be summed up in a single word—balance. Quoting from Milan Kundera’s 1996 novella, Slowness, he writes, ‘“When things happen too fast, nobody can be certain about anything, about anything at all, not even about himself.” All the things that bind us together and make life worth living—community, family, friendship—thrive on one thing we never have enough of: time.”
The book begins by tracing the origins of this journey with time and exploring our relationship with it. Over 10 chapters, he then looks at what it means to slow down across different facets of life—whether it is through a return to slow food, cities, medicine, sex, work, leisure or through ‘Raising an Unhurried Child.’ The idea for the book was birthed from an article Honoré saw for “The One-Minute Bedtime Story” and how his first thought was about using it with his young son to breeze through the nightly ritual they shared, with an end goal of making room to fit more into his day. He writes, “My whole life has turned into an exercise in hurry, in packing more and more into every hour. I am Scrooge with a stopwatch, obsessed with saving every last scrap of time, a minute here, a few seconds there.” It was this epiphany that led Honoré to a mission—“to investigate the price of speed and the prospects for slowing down in a world obsessed with going faster and faster.”
The book begins by examining the evolution of our relationship with time as a first step in reflecting on how the world has become so wired for speed and tight schedules. He writes of how ancient civilisations used calendars as a way to know when to plant and harvest crops, and how civilisations like the Sumerians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Aztecs and Mayans all created their own calendars. “Survival was one incentive for measuring time […] Right from the start, though, timekeeping proved to be a double-edged sword. On the upside, scheduling can make anyone, from peasant farmer to software engineer, more efficient. Yet as soon as we start to parcel up time, the tables turn, and time takes over. We become slaves to the schedule. Schedules give us deadlines, and deadlines, by their very nature, give us a reason to rush. As an Italian proverb puts it: Man measures time, and time measures man.”
He argues that it was in the late 19th century, however, that the clock was identified as the what Lewis Mumford, the eminent social critic, describes as ‘the key machine’ of the Industrial Revolution. He writes, “Industrial capitalism fed on speed, and rewarded it as never before. The business that manufactured and shipped its products the fastest could undercut rivals. The quicker you turned capital into profit, the quicker you could re-invest it for even greater gain. Not by accident did the expression “to make a fast buck” enter the language of the nineteenth century.” While this book was written almost two decades ago, it could not be truer for the times we live in, where promises of deliveries in under 30 minutes by online marketplaces continue to hold much allure.
The corresponding impact of this addiction to speed was directly felt by workers—time discipline was now demanded and punctuality was promoted as a civic duty and a moral virtue, while slowness and tardiness were denigrated as cardinal sins. With the spread of industrialisation and urbanisation, new inventions began to be design with the golden promise of time saving and a bottom line of doing everything with more haste. So much so that “In 1880, Nietzsche detached a growing culture “…of hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants to ‘get everything done’ at once,” writes Honoré.
Closely linked to this was consumerism as another incentive to go fast. He writes, “Tempted and titillated at every turn, we seek to cram in as much consumption and as many experiences as possible. As well as glittering careers, we want to take art courses, work out at the gym, read the newspaper and every book on the bestseller list, eat out with friends, go clubbing, play sports, watch hours of television, listen to music, spend time with the family, buy all the newest fashions and gadgets, go to the cinema, enjoy intimacy and great sex with our partners, holiday in far-flung locations and maybe even do some meaningful volunteer work. The result is a gnawing disconnect between what we want from life and what we can realistically have, which feeds the sense that there is never enough time.” He adds that time-sickness is also deeply intertwined with a deeper existential malaise, as a way to avoid confronting one’s own unhappiness by speeding up in the final stages before burnout. Keeping busy and filling one’s day down to the last well-parcelled time capsule becomes a way to block the barrenness of the modern world.
Through the rest of the book, Honoré busts myths about slow, examines the tenets of slow philosophy and shares examples of this from different parts of the world, from Carlo Petrini’s launching the Slow Food movement in Italy in the late 1980s to ‘slow schooling’ which encourages time for unstructured play and makes a case for how critical it is for children to develop their creative powers and ability to learn. He writes how slow is not anti-speed nor is it slow motion or doing everything at a snail’s pace. Rather, it is understanding that “There is no one-size-fits-all formula for slowing down, no universal guide to the right speed. Each person, act, moment has its own eigenzeit.” Or as he suggests a few chapters later, “Seek to live at what musicians call the tempo giusto—the right speed.”
What is unique about the Slow Movement is also that it has no central leader or headquarters—world over, people are choosing to do so as a way to resist the cult of speed. In the 20th century, this has seen a coming together in the form of broader social movements, such as the Voluntary Simplicity movement in the late 1980s which led to “downshifting” or “swapping a high-pressure, high-earning, high-tempo lifestyle for a more relaxed, less consumerist existence. Unlike decelerators from the hippie generation, downshifters are driven less by political or environmental scruples than by the desire to lead more rewarding lives. They are willing to forgo money in return for time and slowness.” So whether it is through food or reclaiming time and tranquility to nourish relationships with self and the soul, or shifting the mind into a slower gear, Honoré examines what it might entail to move from a Slow Movement to a Slow Revolution.
In the context of work, which is a key battlefront, he writes, “Work devours the bulk of our waking hours. Everything else in life—family and friends, sex and sleep, hobbies and holidays—is forced to bend around the almighty work schedule.” Instead, he writes of the stepping away from a permanent deadline mode to make room for creativity. “The trouble is that many of us are permanently stuck in deadline mode, leaving little time to ease off and recharge. The things that need slowness—strategic planning, creative thought, building relationships—get lost in the mad dash to keep up, or even just to look busy,” he adds.
In conclusion, he writes that the “sense that something is missing from our lives is what underpins the global yearning for Slowness. Whether that “something” goes deeper than a better quality of life, however, remains an open question.”
– A TED Talk by Carl Honoré, In Praise of Slowness
Discussion Themes and Questions:
– What is your relationship with time?
– What steps could you take to join the ‘Voluntary Simplicity’ or downshifting movement?
– How do you cultivate slowness in your life? Can you identify what that looks like?
– As the world hurtles towards more speed and faster consumption, what are ways in which to embrace the central philosophy of the Slow Movement—balance?