Doing Less, Slowly

Taizu, better known as Genghis Khan. Portrait ...
The first Fed-Ex -- Genghis Khan! Image via Wikipedia

When I wait for my email, I get impatient if it doesn’t appear within seconds. That’s normal now.

So much of our lives, mediated or aided or improved by technology, moves at a dizzying pace.

Is this a good thing?

I’m not sure. There are things we logically want as quickly as possible — cash from an ATM, the results of a mammogram or medical test, photos from our vacation.

But we are now, typically, moving and thinking and reacting with and in such haste.

I first really started to think about this in, of all places, a New York Times elevator. The Times, where I have freelanced for 20 years and where my partner works, moved to a sexy new building a few years ago. The elevators work on a system where you are directed to the one going to your floor. There so many elevators and you have to figure out which one is there fast as the doors open and shut so quickly there’s no time to zone out or dilly-dally.

Snooze, you lose!

Technology, in fact, often dictates the speed and frequency with which we live — not vice versa. I’ve never owned a microwave, and nor do I especially want one. I don’t need anything edible or potable that quickly. When I am thirsty for tea or coffee, I boil a kettle or set up fresh pot of coffee. Then I wait. The anticipation of that pleasure is as much a part of the process as enjoying the final steaming fragrant pot of Earl Grey.

There’s a wonderful book, an international best-seller by a fellow Canadian journalist and Globe and Mail alum, Carl Honore, called In Praise of Slow.

On his website, he explains:

It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.

What happens when we slow down? Are we losing, or gaining?

My little town contains a church from 1685, one I’ve driven past, going about 40 mph, hundreds of times, sometimes faster in a rush to reach the ER of our local hospital.

Every time I pass the church, I wonder about those former residents, of the 1600s and 1700s and 1800s, who walked to it or came by horse or in their carriage over muddy, rutted roads. Before the automobile speeded our travels, we moved only as quickly as the fastest, freshest horses might carry us.

For many centuries, animals’ strength and stamina dictated how quickly we might move around the world. (My favorite factoid is the story of the legendary couriers used by Genghis Khan to send communications across his enormous empire, in horseback. They’d strap in and go, a bell sounding their arrival so the next rider could speed with, already saddled, within seconds.) For millions of people still living in rural agricultural societies, it still does.

Before the age of steam power, ships’ speed relied on the wind, and sailors’ skills. One of the best weeks of my life was a week aboard The Endeavour, a replica of Darwin’s original ship that allows amateurs a taste of 18th century life that is considered the best replica of its kind in the world.

I slept in a tiny rope hammock I set up every night. I climbed the rigging 100 feet into the air to work on a footrope, furling and unfurling enormous, heavy canvas sails. I coiled ropes thicker than my arm. I came away in awe of the strength and skill that life demanded.

I loved how the “real world” disappeared for that week. It was wind, waves, work. Time was measured in watches — four hours on, four hours off. I steered the huge ship from 4:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. along the New England coast and discovered a whole new taste of time.

As I write this, it’s dawn and the sky is moving — slowly — from gray to pink. I know within a few minutes I’ll soon see the row of rubies I look forward to each morning — the sun’s reflection in a row of large windows on the riverbank facing east. It’s a spectacular, brief light-show.

You have to wait for it.

Are you living in an un-holy hurry?

What, if anything, are you doing to sloooooow down?

5 thoughts on “Doing Less, Slowly

  1. Doug

    Happily, I talk slow, think slow and move slow. If I miss an elevator or two, it’s alright because most people are more impatient after I arrive than before.

  2. Yay! I often feel, literally, very out of step, certainly in gogogogogo places like NYC where I don’t always want to do everything as quickly as possible so I can cram even more stuff into my day. Exhausting!

  3. Dalina

    Living out on the reservation has really taught me how to move at a different pace. It’s much easier to see the sun rise when the front door of every house faces east. As a journalist, I was always worried about deadlines and making meetings on time but here, life runs on “Indian time.” I can’t make the cows in the middle of the road move any faster. I don’t expect people’s lunch breaks to last an hour when they not only have to feed themselves, but also the horses waiting for their daily dose of hay. I used to get so impatient and exasperated; now I try to enjoy the moments knowing how fast life moves on the “outside.”

  4. I have a suspicion you’ll really miss “Indian time” (and the values it upholds) when you leave. I mourn the loss of all the smaller emotional connections (which add up to a large whole over time) with animals, people, nature that we lose by…rushing….to?

    When I drove the one-lane backroads of Ireland, I was often delayed by a huge flock of sheep blocking the road. I called it a ram jam!

  5. Belongum

    I visit the beach… the ocean for me is a force that can never be contained, it can’t be tamed – it can’t be enjoyed via technology – it can’t be condensed into solid-state circuitry nor compressed via a series of 1’s and 0’s.

    It’s not for technology to capture the Ogin (a sailor’s jargon for the ocean) in this way. You FEEL that cold water wrap around you and experience it’s latent power as it envelops you completely. You give yourself over – completely – to the ocean. It can never be the other way around.

    My Bardi mob (Aust Aboriginal peoples – salt water peoples – of NW Western Australia – Cape Leveque) experience time in a whole different way and whilst technology changes some if not most of the way in which my mob partake in their culture, you just can’t make mother nature rush it’s business.

    The seasons will not pass by at the press of a button; the dugong’s won’t get fat if we download a particular software package; and the gubinge (bush fruit) won’t grow back on the tree past it’s time if we re-load their program!

    I’m with you Caitlin – I kinda like life like that… I enjoy what technology allows us to do ( For example – I can visit Broadside Blog and learn new things) – but I’m in absolutely no hurry for it to take over important parts of my life.

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