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Slowing Down
Emily Gertz, 13 Jan 07

by Worldchanging New York local blog editor, Emily Gertz

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Few of us come to a megacity like New York to kick back and live the quiet life; this is a city of strivers. But could going slower be just as potentially worldchanging as going for it?

The imaginative people at slowlab embrace the linkages between thoughtful slowness, design and sustainability:

Fast food, media soundbytes, speedy information networks, rapid, global flows of goods and services, an over-saturated and ever-growing commercial landscape...... Daily life has become a cacophony of experiences that disable our senses, disconnect us from one another and damage the environment.

But deep experience of the world-- meaningful and revealing relationships with the people, places and things we interact with-- requires many speeds of engagement, and especially the slower ones.

'Slowness' is a holistic approach to creative thinking, process and outcomes. It envisions positive human and environmental impacts of designed products, environments and systems, while constructively critiquing the processes and technologies of which they are born. It celebrates local, close-mesh networks of people and industry, it preserves and draws upon our cultural diversity, and it relies on the open sharing of ideas and information to arrive at innovative solutions to contemporary challenges.

From here, it gets even more conceptual. slowlab's upcoming projects include:

  • "a more comprehensive, community-oriented portal: a place where people can become active participants in our community and contribute to a connected, dynamically evolving repository of slow ideas, people and projects."
  • the launch of SLOWmail, an email service that deliberately slows down the pace of electronic messaging"
  • "the New York debut of Simon Heijdens' acclaimed light installation TREE, which will evolve over time in response to the city's urban conditions."

    The links between slowing down and creating a sustainable world may seem ephemeral. But there is an example of positive action via slowness: the slow food movement, which encourages people to regain connections to nature and the environment via how they select, cook and eat food. Slow food advocates organic ingredients, and the locally grown, over foods with little or no relationship to local and regional ecologies, communities and economies. As professional chefs and devoted foodies have embraced slow food philosophies over time, they've helped create a ready outlet in the cities for these foods; this demand helps smaller-scale producers stay in business, which in turn allows them to continue farming practices that enhance the land, protect the environment, and preserve the genetic diversity of farm animals and crops that have become much rarer, sometimes endangered, in the era of massive-scale industrial agriculture. These are wins for everyone who eats, fast or slow.

    To change a thing -- like our city -- for the better, we first have to see it, to know it. That isn't likely to happen when we're striding along the sidewalk at the usual breakneck New York pace, ignoring most of what goes on around us while we talk on our cell phones or listen through earphones to our personal soundtracks. It's going to take a lot of imagination to get from the troubled state of the world we're in now to a better, more just, and more sustainable future. Maybe embracing slowness is one good way to get started.

    slowlab's events and projects are carving out a space where we can learn to slow down enough to perceive the world around us in ways that weren't visible before, and to leap from there to imagining how it could be.

    Images: details from Broken White, a slow project by Simon Heijdens

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Slowness is about taking the time, at least, for me it is. Things like setting the alarm clock half an hour earlier gives me the time to wake up and have breakfast (breakslow :-) and even to sit in the garden to enjoy the early morning sun for a little while. It allows me to leave home early enough so that I'm in no hurry while I bike to work and have a coffee there before I start.
It doesn't matter that an email arrives 1 minute after a friend sends it. It's all about taking the time to read it and taking the time to reply. If it's serious matter I may decide to read it in the evening when the kids are asleep and spend more than an hour to reply. In fact, slowing down the email transport would give me less flexibility in picking the right moment.
If you are decicive about taking your time and plan your day to allow for that, there is no need for special tools or services.
Last week I made a todo list with six items to do in the evenings. I ended up doing four, taking my time, allowing an evening of doing nothing because I didn't feel well and ended up happy about four things done. The world didn't fell apart because I moved the remaining two items to a new list for next week.
Wether activities are worldchanging or not has little to do with the pace you undertake them. But the slow pace and appreciation for the improved quality of life may cause a natural shift towards a worldchanging lifestyle.


Posted by: Max on 13 Jan 07

The link between slowing down and environmental benefits is obvious, if slowing down means doing less, using less energy and resources. The most desirable transition to a "slower" lifestyle, in my opinion, would be if standard work hours were shortened, but that would require a completely new or revived pre-consumer value system, so that people wouldn't want ever more money for ever more stuff. Slow movements are nice, but they still seem a lot like window dressing and even a luxury if the larger political and social problems aren't addressed.

Posted by: jl on 14 Jan 07

very interesting. there's sort of an opposition between will and understanding, that comes out especially in environmental philosophy and different styles of interaction with the environment. for instance different types of farming- biointensive farming based in intimate local knowledge of an area, versus industrial farming, based in the absolute reduction of local difference and need for understanding to the will of the industrial food system.

in philosophy this is an old opposition, right? agency and activity versus passivity. and it's related to a major critique against instrumental will and knowledge that has been a part of philosophy for a hundred years, though neglected and misunderstood much of the time in america. this was a point from heidegger's philosophy, that Being hides itself from knowledge, i.e. that focused and instrumental knowledge destroys connection to the world as it unveils itself. so to speak. or bergson's point that analytic knowledge is secondary to intuitive knowledge, the knowledge of the world as an interconnected and interpentrating flow, but that analytic knowledge distracts us from intuitive knowledge.

i don't know, very interesting.

Posted by: donald on 14 Jan 07



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