The original seed of this post came from my experiences at Los Angeles and Heathrow airports last year, but the seed germinated recently when I read about the troubles ordinary people have in living in San Francisco, and the commotion around Dan Lyon’s critical book about HubSpot and the Silicon Valley culture. Continue reading
Back in 2010, smartphones seemed to herald a new always-on, rapidly moving world. An article in Forbes seemed to sum up how people thought mobility would improve the world:
… coordination replaces planning … we are seeing more work processes move to approaches that favor just-in-time coordination over advanced planning. It is more efficient and more flexible … As we find ourselves tied to mobile devices, coordination will increasingly become the organizing principle that defines how we get work done; we will become a network of spontaneous gathering, loosely coordinated agents in constant contact.
Spontaneity and speed seemed to be the rallying cry of the new world. In the business world, we were told how connectedness and speed will improve factory operations and process efficiency in warehouses. It looked like we were moving into a world where continuous activity and 24/7 real-time response would be required.
However, some dissenting voices were being raised. One of the major proponents of a ‘slower world’, Tony Schwartz, wrote an article in 2012 saying that:
Speed is the enemy of depth, nuance, subtlety, attention to detail, reflection, learning, and rich relationships — the enemy of much, in short, that makes life worth living.
… Speed is a source of stimulation and fleeting pleasure
… The faster we move, the less we feel, which may be a primary reason we move so fast. Most of us are more worried, uncertain, and insecure than we care to acknowledge, even to ourselves. Moving fast keeps those discomfiting feelings at bay.
Around the same time, the founder of an African startup believed that smartphones and 24/7 response capability might be making us less productive and
jeopardizing long-term productivity by eliminating predictable time off that ensures balance in our lives.
John Wegner, the Director of the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Research at Angelo State University, wrote about a former time:
… where boredom reigned and no one cared.
He noted recent research showing that:
… boredom is good for the brain. Evidently, boredom switches our brain’s little buttons and the synapses and neurons start firing on more cylinders, pushing us to creativity and intellectual growth.
Adding to the argument, an article in the New York Times on The Joy of Quiet quoted some famous authors:
Henry David Thoreau reminded us that “the man whose horse trots a mile in a minute does not carry the most important messages.” Even half a century ago, Marshall McLuhan, who came closer than most to seeing what was coming, warned, “When things come at you very fast, naturally you lose touch with yourself.” Thomas Merton struck a chord with millions, by not just noting that “Man was made for the highest activity, which is, in fact, his rest,”
That article also also quotes from Nicholas Carr’s book, The Shallows, about tests that found:
after spending time in quiet rural settings, subjects “exhibit greater attentiveness, stronger memory and generally improved cognition. Their brains become both calmer and sharper.” More than that, empathy, as well as deep thought, depends (as neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio have found) on neural processes that are “inherently slow.” The very ones our high-speed lives have little time for.
The need to switch off and slow down is even being recognized by world leaders. On Tony Schwartz’s Energy Project site, there’s an article about the need for contemplation and reflection:
It’s not possible to move from one activity to the next at blinding speed and be reflective at the same time. The more complex and demanding the work we do, the wider, deeper and longer the perspective we require to do it well.
[an] observation by President Obama caught on an open mike during a stroll with Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain in 2008:
“The most important thing you need to do [in this job] is to have big chunks of time during the day when all you’re doing is thinking.”
… good judgment grows out of reflection, and reflection requires the sort of quiet time that gets crowded out by the next demand.
… Regular reflection also provides the space in which to decide what not to do … Time to reflect is what makes it possible to prioritize.
There was even a conference, Wisdom 2.0, which addressed the issue of “the insidious costs of moving so relentlessly and at such high speeds”, where senior business leaders discussed the importance of time to contemplate and meditate.
My view on the Forbes comment about coordination replacing planning is that it omits the fact that to coordinate also needs time. We need to start challenging the current views about pace and activity. It would be nice if companies started instituting practices, such as Google’s chill rooms, to encourage more contemplation time.
Need an antidote for speed? In his 2012 article, Tony Schwartz suggested the following to help you slow down:
- Designate one meal when you will take the time to notice the aroma, flavor, and texture of what you’re eating.
- Curl up in a favorite chair after work and spend at least a half-hour reading a book purely for pleasure.
- Take the time to really listen to someone you love, without interruption, for as long as it takes.
- Choose a place that interests you and spend a couple of hours just exploring it without any specific end in mind.
- Reflect before you go to bed and write in a journal what you are grateful for that day, and what went right.
- Above all, slowly build more strolling, dawdling, moseying, meandering, musing, lingering, relishing, and savoring into your life.
Fifty years ago today the British pop group The Beatles made their ground-breaking performance on the Ed Sullivan Show in the US, kicking off the so-called British invasion.
My personal experience with the Beatles happened a few months earlier. In August 1963, the group played in the English south coast town of Bournemouth, which was about an hour’s drive from where my family lived.
My father was overseas at the time, and my mother took the remarkable step of taking my younger brother and I to see one of the performances.
As I was only seven years old at the time, and my brother was five, I remember feeling a little out of place as we queued to get in because there were lots of teenage girls waiting as well. But with adult hindsight, my mother would have been a few decades older than anyone else there.
That concert introduced me to the phenomenon of Beatlemania. It didn’t happen right at the start of the performance, but during one of the songs the (mainly female) audience got so excited that my brother and I had to stand on the arms of the theatre chairs to see the band.
Postscript: About thirty years later I repaid my mother for her kind action by taking her to see the first concert that the Rolling Stones did in Johannesburg. Once again, she was still the oldest person at the show.