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July 30, 2004

Slow, Cont.

Dear Vanessa --

I had a very good time reading Carl Honore's In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed, an informative and enjoyable introduction to the Slow Movement. (I blogged a little about the Slow Movement here.) Slow Food, Slow Cities, Slow Sex, even Slow Exercise -- Honore investigates and examines them all, with a skeptical but sympathetic and very clear eye.

I enjoyed jotting down some of the facts Honore includes in the book. Some of the more striking:

  • Annual worldwide traffic fatalities: 1.3 million, double the 1980 total.
  • "A pedestrian hit by a car doing 20 mph stands a 5% chance of dying; at 30 mph that figure jumps to 45%."
  • The average British family now spends more time together in the car than they do around the dinner table.
  • In Britain, the average working parent spends twice as much time coping with email as playing with the kids.
  • "Two centuries ago, the average pig took five years to reach 130 pounds; today, it hits 230 pounds after just six months and is slaughtered before it loses its baby teeth."
  • A 1994 survey found that the average American devotes only a half-hour a week to lovemaking.
  • More than 4 million Americans have taken up knitting since 1998.
  • "Americans devote less time than anyone else -- about an hour a day -- to eating, and are more likely to buy processed food and to dine alone."

As someone whose main job goal has been to sustain a middle-class lifestyle while minimizing on-the-job hours, I've always been amazed by how many people seem to want to live on the job, striving and advancing instead. (For what?) So I was especially interested in the job-related facts Honore delivers. A sampling:

  • The average American now puts in 350 hours a year more on the job than does his/her European counterpart.
  • One in four Canadians now works more than 50 hours a week.
  • A Japanese study showed that men who work 60 hours a week are twice as likely to have a heart attack as men who work 40 hours a week.
  • One survey "revealed that, given the choice between two weeks' vacation and two weeks' extra pay, twice as many Americans would choose the time off."

Good to see that yoga and the New Urbanism get Slow nods from Honore. Interesting to learn that 28 Italian towns have officially been designated Slow Cities. And great to learn that Slow Food now counts 78,000 members.

Honore's excellent book can be bought here; his very useful website is here.



UPDATE: Robert Frank writes about economics and happiness here. Arnold Kling comments here. This Guy Claxton article here about the role relaxation plays in creativity is worth a read too.

posted by Michael at July 30, 2004


This really does sound like a load of nonsense. I wonder where the statistics come from and how they were measured.

"The average British family now spends more time together in the car than they do around the dinner table."

Says who? And so what? There's no spy camera in my kitchen or in my car as far as I know. Do I count? Okay, I wasn't asked. But do we believe the people who were? Or is it just guesswork, as usual? Travelling does in fact generally take more time than eating a meal if you want to go more than 15 miles and not break any laws.

"In Britain, the average working parent spends twice as much time coping with email as playing with the kids."

Let's rephrase this is good honest (British) English: In Britain, just as in all other advanced countries, a large proportion, if not a majority, of people work at a computer. This includes working class and middle class people, and, no doubt, a few poor aristocrats. Quite a lot of this work is done by sending and responding to e-mails. Some years ago it would have been done in an infinitely more tedious and irritating way using typed and carbon-copied memos and telephone messages written on scraps of paper. It turns out, given the fact the working day is about 8 hours long, that people spend more time doing this (or tell people with clipboards that is what they do) than playing with their children. So what?

To be serious, the prosperity of modern life gives us all more choices. Some choose to do more, some choose to do less. Having the choice is the great thing. And remember (forgive me for this old chestnut) 98% of statistics are made up. And 99% of those are made up to *sell books*.

Posted by: Graham Asher on July 30, 2004 6:46 PM

Graham -- I may have done Honore a disservice by simply listing these facts without comment. Honore has certainly got nothing against prosperity or choice. Who would? What he's trying to do is raise a few of the questions that follow once you've got some prosperity and some choice: How to organize a life so that it's more rewarding rather than less rewarding? How to arrange work and leisure? How do we know (or how can we find out) what "a rewarding life" means for us, or might be for us? Are the kinds of values that serve on the job of any help where leisure and getting-something-out-of-life go? And if not, what kinds of values might be more useful?

That kind of thing. His facts are really there to illustrate his idea that it (modern life) is a big, confusing, balancing act. And his final point is that some people have found it useful and helpful to introduce some "Slow" qualities into their lives.

Apologies -- I should have made that clearer.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 30, 2004 9:08 PM

The warp speed lifestyle does not show up just in statistics as to HOW the time is spent, but in everyday reality such as speech patterns.

I found out that I was speaking much faster when I realized that my elderly, Alzheimic mother was not uncomprehending of what I was saying due to her disease, but because to her, the words ran by in a blur. Later, the look on my father's face made it clear and even my going from the stove for tea water to the table to pour was practically creating a breeze that chilled him.

Whatever we're doing, we've picked up our pace as if racing against a clock created in our own minds.

Posted by: susan on July 31, 2004 8:10 AM

Five minutes isn't enough for the sex thing?

Posted by: ricpic on July 31, 2004 2:59 PM

"Procrastination is not a problem, it's a solution"
[Was just watching Ellen Di Generes over lunch]

Posted by: Tatyana on July 31, 2004 4:25 PM

Five minutes? They expect us to last that long? These dames, they're really asking for too much these days ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 31, 2004 7:05 PM

I'm on board with the lovemaking thing. There's something I'm willing to slow down for and, er, sink my teeth into.

But eating...eating has always struck me as a colossal waste of time. Or rather, a necessary evil to be reduced at all costs. I mean, if you have the money to enjoy a high-class meal at a fancy restaurant, by all means slow down and enjoy it. But I've got about a hundred things I'd rather do than put food in my mouth, and about a thousand I'd rather do than prepare it. The time I spend in the kitchen and the time I spend in the batroom is about equal, and about equally valuable to me.

It's weird: food is just one of those cultural things that don't work for me, the way video games or ballet don't work for plenty of other people. If anyone can come up with an all-purpose calorie capsule, please keep me informed. Better yet, some kind of hypodermic solution that avoids that pesky digestive system entirely.

Posted by: Nate on July 31, 2004 10:02 PM

It's weird: food is just one of those cultural things that don't work for me, the way video games or ballet don't work for plenty of other people.

I may enjoy ballet and video games, but food, yeah, I just don't get it. I'm tempted to ask foodies what the "gateway drugs" of becoming more sophisticated about eating. But it reminds me of Golf.

I thought, during High School, that golfing might be a fun and anachronistic thing to do. I went to the driving range and had a little fun. Then it started to become a fascinating challenge. But middle-aged men would see me at the golf course, warning me: "Stop, before it's too late! You're too young! Golf takes over your life! Get out while you still can!"

I did, and consequently, if I'm desparate, I'll have something to do in my retirement.

Posted by: Jonas Cord on August 2, 2004 6:19 AM

Perhaps non-epicurean benefits result from adopting some of the practices of those in the Slow Food movement. Perhaps health benefits result, not from how the food is prepared, and not from what kind of food is prepared, but from how the food is eaten, that is, slowly, socially, calmly. For an example of what might lead one to believe this, see:


"It's Not What You Think!"

by Malcolm Kendrick


Dave Lull

Posted by: Dave Lull on August 3, 2004 12:28 AM

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