Just Slow Down?

An excerpt from an upcoming book, “The Tyranny of E-Mail,” appeared in the Journal today. It reminds me somewhat of the extended screed by James Gleick that came out some years back, but both made valuable points – there is wisdom in slowing down. As the communications world whizzes madly from one (faster) model of getting the word out to the next, this can seem counterintuitive, but is worth considering. The heart of the slow communications manifesto is this:

In the past two decades, we have witnessed one of the greatest breakdowns of the barrier between our work and per­sonal lives since the notion of leisure time emerged in Victorian Britain as a result of the Industrial Age. It has put us under great physical and mental strain, altering our brain chemistry and daily needs. It has isolated us from the people with whom we live, siphoning us away from real-world places where we gather. It has encouraged flotillas of unnecessary jabbering, making it difficult to tell signal from noise. It has made it more difficult to read slowly and enjoy it, hastening the already declining rates of literacy. It has made it harder to listen and mean it, to be idle and not fidget.

This current model includes email, a phone, camera and video camera.

This is not a sustainable way to live. This lifestyle of being constantly on causes emotional and physical burnout, work­place meltdowns, and unhappiness. How many of our most joyful memories have been created in front of a screen?

If we are to step off this hurtling machine, we must reassert principles that have been lost in the blur. It is time to launch a manifesto for a slow communication movement, a push back against the machines and the forces that encourage us to remain connected to them. Many of the values of the Internet are social improvements—it can be a great platform for solidarity, it rewards curiosity, it enables convenience. This is not the mani­festo of a Luddite, this is a human manifesto. If the technology is to be used for the betterment of human life, we must reassert that the Internet and its virtual information space is not a world unto itself but a supplement to our existing world, where the following three statements are self-evident.

Over the years, I’ve hit one theme several times in this blog – the idea that tools are not good or bad, but are simply tools. Blogs weren’t evil or good, twitter, youtube, etc. and so on – they were simply tools. And anytime a single tool becomes the answer to every question (for example, got a crisis? start a blog!) we’re heading the wrong direction. And so in some ways I agree with John Freeman – there is a need to slow down, but it is situational, not systemic. Yes, we have to remember that there often are meaty, complicated issues, and these require discussion and persuasion, which requires time and length. Brevity and speed matter less here, but can’t be ignored, and I would say this is the area where we have more to re-learn than we might expect – watching the U.S. try and have a discussion about healthcare that doesn’t devolve into screaming has been a sobering experience.

So speed is good, speed is bad. Slow is good, slow is bad. That great gray space in the middle, and the ability to combine speed and thought? Good all around.

One Response to “Just Slow Down?”

  1. Kevin Briody Says:

    Frank,
    I like the new blog, and congratulations (and good luck!) on the new job at MS. To your post, very interesting and valid issue raised – something that comes home hard to me every time I grab my phone at home to check in on Twitter, email or my feeds when I should be paying more attention to my kids. Something I’m working on, just putting the damn phone away when it’s family time.

    The “expectation of connectivity” that our coworkers, clients, and even friends and family may have of us creates this weird sense that if you’re not online, not easily reachable, somehow you are missing out. The tools and ubiquitous connectivity enable it, but the choice to plug in still sits with each of us.

    A bit of a rambling comment as I’m sitting here at #gnomedex overwhelmed with the connectivity and info flow – on a weekend when I probably should be home with the kids (palm hitting face).

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