In the first piece of the series, we shed some light on the initiation, put into context and – hopefully – eliminated the negative connotations of ’slow’ which are stemming from some myths. Now, as was promised, we provide some history, which might explain further the relevance and circumstances in which the initiation arose, including the possible reasons of being busy constantly. It is then only some more steps to look into ourselves and see the roots, our own motivations, understanding of which is the essential part of the desired change.
The beginning …
There seems to be a worldwide consensus about Carlo Petrini being the very first advocate, in 1986, with the protest against the opening of a McDonald’s in Rome. This moment may be marked as the beginning, followed by the official foundation of the international ‘slow food movement‘ a few years later. There is also some evidence on certain people reading the word SLOW as an acronym of sustainable, local, organic and whole, associating the movement with additional positive features according to their understanding.
There has always been some parallel track for contesting the perception of faster being better, which might have been derived from economic theories in which overall efficiency have had primacy, and it may have led to conclusions such as fast equals efficient. Nonetheless, the growing popularity of the slowing down idea is unquestionable since the 2000s year, and it may be easy to understand why.
In 1999, Geir Berthelsen created a think tank called the The World Institute of Slowness. He believes “the best thinking often comes from a walk in the ‘slow lane.’” His understanding about slowness is more about balance, not only speed.
Almost two decades went by before the phrase “slow movement” was coined by Carl Honoré in his 2004 book, In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed. Since then, the movement is associated with seeking the opportunity to connect to life, meaning to connect to every aspect of our lives. To our body and our mind, to spirituality, to our stage in life, to the natural rhythms that guide us, and to death and dying – a natural part of life.
When such movements arise, there is always something behind the curtain, that we had better reveal in order to have a better understanding. In this case, being busy, exploiting ourselves and blurring the border between private and professional life might be something worth taking a closer look at.
Modern myth: permanent busyness
Probably I am not the only one who had a job with long working hours, extreme pressure, high level of constant competition and – unfortunately – these all followed by some level of bullying… After resigning, I became curious, where these all are coming form and why is it so difficult to leave. I found these – partly inter-linked – reasons as the most possible ones, thanks to the recent advocates and fans of slow living. All would be worth being analysed further, but start with a short highlight. So why to be busy? Because it …
… is trendy, a kind of status symbol
To be busy means to show our importance, value, or self-worth in our fast-paced society. We are rushing to make money and justify it with the need to fulfill our dreams. At least, we are influenced to have this impression.
Modern capitalism, like other social systems such as religions, have to maintain certain beliefs: you are what you do; you have to work hard to earn much money, and you may become more; you can spend more and you can access more. Although, the legal environment develops to the directions to enforce some balance (in order to guarantee the reproduction of the workforce – not to please us, o be frank), by prescribing vacations, family leaves, etc., there is a constant message received to disregard it and invest more and more efforts. In highly individualistic cultures, which emphasize achievement over affiliation, this time-is-money mindset is widespread… unfortunately, with all its consequences… When people see their time in terms of money, they often grow stingy with the former to maximize the latter.
… secures the job
It was only a century ago when the extensive leisure time was considered to be a status symbol. The more we had the wealthier we were considered to be. The shift from the leisure-as-status to the busyness-as-status may be stemming from the shift from capital-intensity to knowledge-intensity in modern economies. In such an environment, those individuals, who possess the values appreciated by employers and/or clients, are expected to be in high demand and short supply on the job market. Thus, showing busyness and working all the time implies that we are sought after, which enhances our perceived status.
Work today tends to be more often knowledge-based, and thus seems to be rather subjective when it comes to performance measurement. Perception, unfortunately, becomes more important. Once there is no or are only few metrics for output, the time we spend at our desks is often seen as a sign of productivity and loyalty. And compensated accordingly.
… is the by-product of the digital age
Our 24/7 connected culture is blurring the line between life and work. Our private life and professional life, if it sounds better. Multitasking and never turning off seems to be natural. When everything feels important, and thus urgent, we do not prioritize. Being active shifts to being busy all the time, however, this does not necessarily move us any closer to success. Success, that may be expected to be the ultimate motivation.
New technologies, especially smartphones, which may be considered as the perfect means of self-exploitation, exacerbate impatience and anxiety. Constant availability and the respective work etiquette (e.g. providing feedback not later than 24 hours) underlines the general understanding of that sooner is better, and leads to permanent multitasking to keep up with the mounting demands. All this makes us feel pressed for time and provide the impression that no job is ever done… The idea that work begins and ends at the office is intuitively wrong for many of us… One question arises immediately: if work is our life, then how do we disconnect?
… is fueled by the fear of missing out
In economies where necessities (food, water, shelter, healthcare) are relatively easier to access, drive for higher level of spending has to be maintained with different other means. Information flow providing insight to others life, showing achievable things we do not possess (yet), generate a constant ‘fear’ that we may miss out something in our limited amount of time. Communications such as 10 must haves, 100 places, 1000 books, etc. provide us with the feeling that we have to do more and more and to acquire as much as we can. Unfortunately, this ideology has the effect on us to feel guilty if not keeping up, and that we are loosing – mostly against the time constraints and limited human capacities…
… is a good time-filler
In our age of abundance of choice, we have infinite ways to fill time (online and offline) instead of leaving idle moments as restorative white space. As was mentioned before, we spend the greatest part of our time with work, in order to have the resources for living. Then, we try to fill the remaining hours per day with other activities to feel complete and get rid of the fear of missing out something. Recharging in our leisure time, in the modern societies, more often means feeding ourselves with additional information, exposing ourselves to achievable goals, things and experience, and per se either fueling the fear to miss out something, or restoring our self-perception as being busy, thus valuable members of the society.
… is a necessity
Those truly busy people, who are most strapped for time, are people working multiple jobs and caring for children at home. The more cash-rich working people are those, who feel to be the more time-poor. Those working adults who report being time-poor are less satisfied with their personal lives. The wealthy are actually voluntarily trading their time for even more money, leading to feelings of busyness.
However, looking at history the reality is that we have far more freedom and far more leisure time than e.g. people in the 19th century. Official working hours has never been shorter than nowadays in the majority of the modern economies. So, who should we blame for the consequences of constant busyness? …
… is an easy escape
Saving one of the most important for last: being busy provides an ideal means to avoid facing tough questions in life… Past emotional pain, frustrations or questions like what the meaning of life is may stay buried. Being busy provides us with a kind of purpose, so we can skip thinking about it further… We throw ourselves into frenetic activity and give ourselves the perfect excuse for not doing the big-thinking stuff. In being busy we get to feel productive while procrastinating…
What to do or how to quit?
Here comes the third question: is busyness a consequence or a perfect excuse for us? Once we face this question in our lives, that may be a tipping point… and the drive to look for something different… It usually comes together with realizing that life is far not that long as we have perceived, and we cannot buy back the time for the accumulated money….
My personal opinion is that it is never too late to change and start to be mindful. We can make an attempt to switch off, disconnect for a while and have an experiment on how differently we may see the world. The greatest risk is that we may start liking it and lose our motivation to return…
In the forthcoming parts, you will find some practicalities to help you establishing your own framework and your new way of living, once you decide so.
See you soon.