Quick! Let’s start a slow revolution…

October 12, 2012 by
Filed under: Social Brain 

Several ironies struck me about last Thursday’s panel event The Slow Revolution, which brought together a group of speakers who have each been exploring ways to bring the principles of ‘slow’ to their life and work.

How to Increase Computer Speed

(Image via http://www.registryheal.com)

The first irony was in the format of the event. Cramming four speakers and a chair into a lunchtime event, meant each of the slowness experts had only about five minutes to get their point across, meaning that a bit of speediness was inevitable. It was great to have the diverse perspectives of each of the speakers, but I couldn’t help thinking that it was somehow against the very basic principles of slowness to shoehorn the speakers together so tightly.

Irony two. The event was chaired by Ed Gillespie, co-founder of Futerra Sustainability Communications, and one of the fastest-paced speakers I’ve ever heard. Ed is charismatic and articulate, but he rattled through his introduction at such speed that any sense of slowness audience members might have been expecting to experience was lost in the quick-fire delivery and I for one was left feeling my head was spinning, trying to keep up.

I wasn’t the only one to notice how quickly Ed speaks – the first of the four panel members to be introduced, Carl Honore, commented on it, noting that Ed was the only person he’d heard who speaks more quickly than him.  And, he was being very self aware in saying so, proving himself to be the second speedy speaker of the event.

The third irony was really one of perspective. Carl Honore began his talk by waxing lyrical about the RSA, describing it as an oasis of slowness and calm in the midst of the rush and hurry of central London. He said that the multitasking busyness of the office workers and the pervasive need to deliver targets quickly was left behind the moment you step through the soothing doorway of the RSA House.

perhaps the RSA appears to be more of an oasis of stillness and slowness than it is for those who are working at full pelt in the offices of the upper floors

It’s true that our building has much to recommend it, but I’m not sure how many of the staff at the RSA would agree that their working lives are free of the need for speed. For those who visit us, perhaps the RSA appears to be more of an oasis of stillness and slowness than it is for those who are working at full pelt in the offices of the upper floors.

Carl talked of the way in which we have forgotten how to unplug and disconnect, and I certainly recognised myself in that.  Technology allows us to check emails and keep up with the latest developments in the world whenever and wherever we are. The modern world is obsessed with speed, be it speed reading, speed dialling, speed walking, speed dating, and even speed yoga. With arresting imagery, Carl suggested that we are so caught up in the headlong dash to achieve or attain whatever the current goal might be, that we are collectively ‘marinated in a virus of hurry.’

we are so caught up in the headlong dash to achieve or attain whatever the current goal might be, that we are collectively ‘marinated in a virus of hurry.’

The rapid tour of the slow movement that the panel members offered showed us glimpses of the slow food movement, slow cities, the slow education movement and slow work movement. Kate Fletcher gave us a taster of the possibility of slowness changing the structure of the fashion industry, and Gervais Williams introduced us to the idea of Slow Finance. It’s all fascinating stuff, but I couldn’t help feeling acutely aware of the pressure the speakers were under to say their slow stuff quickly.

I was therefore impressed by Deepa Patel’s willingness to discuss this pressure with the audience. She told us how she had felt some considerable anxiety about how to get across what she really wanted to in only five minutes. It was clear that she had much to share in terms of what the ‘slow process’ is all about, but she also obviously wanted to get us to experience something of slowness.

She tried to give the audience the opportunity to reflect on what slowness really means, by urging us to think about the fact that we are never going to have this moment again. She didn’t tell us all about Slow Down London, of which she is director, but instead asked us to reflect on Gandhi’s three word summary of how to live happier lives: renounce and enjoy. In saying less, pausing more, and realising that getting a sense of slowness is as important as being introduced to lots of details, Deepa’s contribution to the event was, for me, a valiant attempt to put the brakes on.


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