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Friday, October 22, 2004
Last night I finished reading In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed. I read this one so you wouldn't have to. That's too harsh. I enjoyed Slowness immensely, but I've read some 60 other books on time. Let me put it this way: For a time aficionado, this tome's in the top 20% of time books. For normal people, this is boring.

The author, Carl Honore, reads a newspaper item about One-Minute Bedtime Stories, a time-saver for harried parents. At first he's delighted with this swell idea. Upon reflection, he realizes how screwy it is to cut corners on quality time with one's children. Who's calling the shots on this one? Carl digs into the subject, looking at the Slow Food movement, the Slow City movement, hours-long Tantric sex, the frenzied pace of work, and the diminution of leisure.

The main takeaway is that each of us sets his or her own metronome. You can take time to smell the roses or you can zip right past them. This ties in to Bodil Jonsson's observation in Unwinding the Clock, that "If I can fool myself into thinking that I don’t have enough time, couldn’t I just as well fool myself into thinking that I have plenty of time? So I decided to have plenty of time." So I decided to slow down for a spell.
There is more to life than increasing its speed. Gandhi
When automobile drivers speed, they have accidents. When people rev out too highly in their daily lives, they tear the fabric of everything that makes living worthwhile: family, relationships, values, community.

The book treats Fast and Slow as attitudes, not absolute rates. "Fast is busy, controlling, aggressive, hurried, analytical, stressed, superficial, impatient, active, quantity-over-quality. Slow is the opposite: calm, careful, receptive, still, intuitive, unhurried, pateient, reflective, quality-over-quantity. It is about making real and meaningful connections--with people, culture, work, food, everytihng. the paradox is that Slow does not always mean slow." Carl is about as subtle as a Neo-con Amway salesman, but he does make a strong case for looking at your internal speedometer.

Scheduling became a way of life during the Industrial Revolution, as the world lurched into overdrive.
The book says that when hourly wages replaced piece rates, business became locked into a spiral of doing things faster, faster, faster. Culture followed capitalism. The 1881 edition of McGuffey's Reader warned children that the tardy squander opportunities for fortune, honor, happiness, and life itself.

A Jain monk tells the author "It is a Western disease to make time finite, and then to impose speed on all aspects of life. My mother used to tell me: 'When God made time he made plenty of it' -- and she was right."

Slow Food carries the main message of this book. The average meal at McDonald's lasts eleven minutes. "Two centuries ago, the average pig took five years to reach 130 pounds; today, it hits 220 pounds after just six months and is slaughtered before it loses its baby teeth." Stop and savor. (I'm simultaneously reading a Calvin Trillin book on fixating on what you eat. Let's go to Peru for some real ceviche! )

The chapter on health hits on my greatest fear in the coming fusion of learning and work: "Like a bee in a flower bed, the human brain naturally flits from one thought to the next. In the high-speed workplace, where data and deadlines come thick and fast, we are all under pressure to think quickly. Reaction, rather than reflection is the order of the day. To make the most of our time, and to avoid boredom, we fill up every spare moment with mental stimultation. When did you last sit in a chair, close your eyes and just relax?"

The solution is at hand but hardly assured. "Many modern jobs depend on the kind of creative thinking that seldom occurs at a desk and cannot be squeezed into fixed schedules. Letting people choose their own hours, or juding them on what they achieve rather than on how long they spend achieving it, can deliver the flexibility that many of us crave. Studies show that people who feel in control of their time are more relaxed, creative, and productive."

SuperSlow exercise fanatics take twenty seconds to lift and lower a weight. Without momentum, the muscles get a workout very rapidly. One buff adherent spends only twenty minutes a week to achieve muscle tone.
Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it. Soren Kierkegaard
Benjamin Franklin predicted a four-hour workday. George Bernard Shaw predicted that we would work only two hours a day by 2000. I must have missed something.

A Japanese study found that working sixty hours a week instead of forty doubles the probability of heart attack. Sleep less than five hours a couple of nights a week, and the probability triples.

Compared to their brethren to the south, Canadians strike me as cool characters, yet "in a recent poll, 15% of Canadians claimed that job stress had driven them to the brink of suicide."

I love this line: "Stop living every second as if Frederick Taylor were hovering nearby, checking his stopwatch and tut-tutting over his clipboard."

I'm constructing a framework for measuring corporate and individual performance using time metrics. Opportunity cost is a major determinant. If your organization has grown dissatisfied with looking backward to make decions about the future, give me a call. I'm looking for sponsors.

If you find the philosophy of time intriguing, you might enjoy my time page.


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