::Literate Blather::
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Essay: Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

In his book “In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed,” Journalist Carl Honore tried a simple experiment to help down-shift his life from the hyper-speeds of modern living. He decided to obey the speed limit. No more barreling down highways, weaving in and out of lanes, frantic to make it to appointments one or two minutes earlier than if he’d driven slowly and lawfully.

He found it nearly impossible to comply.

With much the same end goal as Honore, I decided to duplicate his experiment. How difficult could it really be to drive slower? I even went one better – I was going to give my fellow drivers the benefit the doubt. Rather than immediately assume the people in the cars next to me were all morons – I’d treat them with the respect and dignity they deserved.

I flamed out after a week – more frustrated than ever.

I’ve been conditioned to drive fast. Being from Massachusetts, reckless driving is hardwired into my DNA. As a former journalist working for a technology consultancy that moved at the speed of the Internet – speed was cultural. A way of life. Even when I focused on traveling at the legal limit, as soon as my mind started to wander, my foot hit the gas pedal and eventually I’d be bombing down the road again.

On those rare occasions when I succeeded in driving slowly, I was in agony. My car felt like it was strapped to a tortoise. I was plodding – stuck in quicksand. My fellow drivers – those impatient morons – despised me. The looks! The sneers and the one-finger salutes! The horn! People giving me the horn!

Better to die in a flaming wreck than be subjected to that.

Slowing down has proven to be more difficult than I imaged. I want to slow down and smell those damn roses. I know taking it down a notch will improve my health, reduce stress levels, and make me happier more patient person. In my quiet moments, I often fanaticize about moving to rural Maine, dropping out of the rat race all together.

I had lunch with a former colleague not long ago. He also works for a high technology company. We found that our work environments were amazingly similar.

  • A cultural tendency at both companies to set unrealistic deadlines – often with an acknowledgement upfront that the deadlines were nearly impossible.
  • A complete disregard for the 40-hour work week. Employees at both companies were supposed to work as long as it took (both of us felt most people worked about 45-50 hours a week on average). We had both experienced many times meetings scheduled at 5 p.m. or before 9 a.m.
  • An over reliance on email to communicate – which lead to misunderstandings and even hard feelings. This lead to too much time being wasted on long email chains when a quick phone call could have easily alleviated any miscommunication.
  • Work days clogged with long and unnecessary meetings.

The conversation then turned even more desperate.

We realized that our generation was truly an experiment in speed. We were working faster, longer, and under more intense pressure than our fathers and grandfathers. Could we maintain this speed for 10 more years? For 20 more years? Could our bodies handle it? Would we be dead from heart attacks or stokes long before the promise of retirement? Would cancer invade our weakened, rattled bodies and kill us before the age of 50?

We started to panic. I’m already addicted to coffee. I eat terribly, especially when traveling. My sleep is sometimes good, but other times I lie awake with my head sizzling and snapping like an electron tube. I’m tired all the time.

My former colleague already has high-blood pressure and a potbelly at the age 38. He finds himself extremely irritable, especially with his children. They move too slowly and he doesn’t seem to have the patience to deal with those low-gear speeds anymore.

And we keep getting pushed to go faster. Cell phones with email and video! iPods to watch movies and TV shows on the run! Headsets so we can be on the phone – all the time! Web-enbled this! Web-enabled that! Social networks! Web 2.0! Open source! Another goddamn password! More gizmos!

Faster, smaller, faster, smaller, faster…

Maybe it's time to try obeying the speed limit again -- before it's too late.

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