Kill the smartphone: the slow fight against the rat race

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Stop! Stop the rushing, racing, elbowing to compete in a hyper-wired world whose mantra is to move fast, whatever the direction.

That is the message the Slow movement has been gently spreading for a quarter century.

"In this roadrunner world, it can sometimes feel like there is no option but to follow the hurrying herd. But there is," says Carl Honore, whose 2004 book on the movement, "In Praise of Slowness", became an international bestseller.

It all started 20 years ago in Italy, with a protest against the opening of a McDonalds' restaurant led by Carlo Petrini, who went on to launch a movement devoted to "good, clean and fair" food.

Since then Slow food - as it became known - has spread to 130 countries and spawned countless sister trends around the world, from slow cities to slow money, slow design, slow travel and even slow sex.

There is also slow parenting - the simple art of taking time for one's children - and slow wear which promotes sustainable clothes, all carrying a common message into every corner of our lives, winning millions of adepts around the world.

"The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail's pace," Honore told AFP in an interview. "It's about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, and sometimes completely still."

When the slow guru gave a talk about the philosophy last year, a priest in the audience came up to him afterwards and confessed he had just had a revelation: "Lately I have been praying too fast."

After two decades spent watching the movement grow, Honore now believes it is only a matter of time before it hits the mainstream: "We are at a historical turning point," he said.

Even high-tech firms - after decades spent driving the acceleration of the global economy - are now recognising its ill-affects, leading Google, IBM and others to launch a research group into information overload.

Studies by Microsoft or Hewlett Packard, quoted by the movement, indicate that modern-day office work with its constant interruptions - by emails, phones, text messages - can slice 10 points off a person's IQ.

An IBM manager recently launched what he called "slow e-mail" to encourage staffers to use the medium better.

And in another sign of the times, British Prime Minister David Cameron has banned cellphones - whether smart or not - from his cabinet meetings to keep ministers focused on the task at hand.

London-based research estimated that some 20 million people in Europe were ready to give back a chunk of their wages, in exchange for a slice of extra time to relax and spend with their families.

"Speed helped the world tip into modernity two centuries ago, but now it may be driving it into the abyss," warned the German philosopher Hartmut Rosa in a recent book.

Slow advocates see the global economic crisis - caused in their view by an obsession with fast growth, fast consumption and fast profits - as the latest validation of their worldview.

"In India, despite the rise of unbridled capitalism, there is a real debate about the dangers of speed. People are not happy about losing their family ties, neglecting their elders," said Honore.

Even in speed-driven Japan, where there is a word - "karoshi" - for death through overwork, the Sloth Club was created a few years ago to lift people out of the go-fast culture.

Each year in Austria, the meeting of the Society for the Deceleration of Time gathers scientists, artists, lawyers and experts determined to push the slow agenda.

Five years ago, the concept "Slow" turned up next to nothing when punched into an Internet search engine. Now, says Honore, it produces millions of results as the philosophy spreads around the world.

"People are changing the way they consume," says Jean Lheritier, the French head of the Slow Food movement. "They've had enough of spending their lives stuck in traffic jams, pushing carts down supermarket aisles.

"But the transformation will take several decades."

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