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Oct 19

POPTech: Carl Honore on the Slow Movement

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Oct 19

October 19, 2007

POPTech: Carl Honore on the Slow Movement

Carl Honore is taking the stage about the Speed of Human Culture. I’m a great fan of Carl, and I highly recommend his book, “In Praise of Slowness” which is taking the Fast World by storm.

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He starts by talking about how people told him he’d love Maine because it’s so slow. I am noting that Carl is a very fast talker for a guy who espouses slowing down. He begins making his point about the perils of constantly being “plugged into” technology, by telling a a true story about a couple where the man realized things were very wrong when his fiance checked email on her Blackberry during lovemaking. (Did you know that 1 in 5 people surveyed stop sex and take the call when their cellphone rings?)

Carl describes speed walking, speed dating, and even speed yoga at a gym near his home, for time-starved professionals in this Road-Runner culture.

We are so caught up in the dash of daily life. We lose sight of the damage that it does to our health, work, relationships, to our environment. A wake up call is often in the shape of an illness. Or a relationship ending. Carl’s wake up call was around bedtime stories with his young son, where he found himself speed-reading Snow White. His son often arguing about dad reading too fast. “Why are there only 3 dwarfs?,” he would ask. He realized he had gone off the deep-end when he found that a book entitled “The One Minute Bedtime Story” had some appeal.

That was his moment of epiphany. He started looking, traveling, and finding people everywhere slowing down. However, rather than discover that things would fall apart when people slowed down, they found the opposite to be true – things got better. Hence the Slow-Movement.

Example – Food: The virus of hurry has infected everything in our food chain. How we grow it, how we make it, how we eat it. We lose the nutrition, the pleasure, the social connection of food. Slow Food actually started in Italy. Carl says that we get more pleasure health and meaning when we change our relationship with food.

The Slow City movement is also happening, reconfiguring the urban landscape. Park benches, roads closed to traffic. Both are Italian, but broader than just that.

Yoga, Tai Chi, is now prevalent. They foster not only physique, but an inner calm. Being “in the zone.” Time slows down. He talks about slow medicine: alternative therapies, acupuncture, massage. These things work.

And fast sex? Carl’s not just referring to the tidal wave of porn on the net. He gives us a sad statistic – 20% of those surveyed are willing to interrupt lovemaking to take a cell-phone call. In the current culture of Men’s Health magazine, he made reference to an article byline that read “Bring Her to Orgasm in 30 Seconds.” How ridiculous, as though that’s what any woman might want. On the other hand, there is a significant movement around slow lovemaking, including more awareness of Tantric lovemaking techniques. If it’s good for Sting, why not the rest of us?

Children need slowness even more than adults do, as those more sublime experiences provide children opportunities fo develop and understand relationships. Some schools are telling parents that children need more down time – away from homework and scheduled activities. Even Harvard University sends out recommendations that their incoming freshmen encouraging them to find ways to slow down.

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All this is fine for personal life, but what about the workplace?

In the 21st century, in many ways it’s a given that companies and organizations have to be fast, but you can’t be fast ALL THE TIME. In the world of work, there are 3 strands of discussion that Carl makes about this:

1) Working less is happening in the Nordic countries. Yet they rank consistently high at the top of the corporate world. Example: Nokia
2) Working more slowly. The brain needs moments of slowness to drop into nuance and moments of creative thought. Sometimes you can’t rush creativity.
3) Renegotiating our relationship with gadgets. Use the OFF button. According to an internal communication at HP, they’ve informed employees that the constant barrage of tech stimulation can drive IQ down about 10 points in a day. That’s double the drop from smoking marijuana.

Wherever you look, we are finding that less is more. Slower can be better. In the early days of our speed culture, the pace of acceleration may have been good, but speed now is doing more harm than good. This message to rethink speed is spreading everywhere. It’s not extremist. It’s about relearning the lost art of shifting gears. Learn how to be fast AND to be slow.

Does it work in practice?

Yes. Carl cites his own life as an example. Yes, he still loves hockey and living in fast-paced London. But he is also making peace with his “inner tortoise.” He has more energy. He finds himself more productive, and having more time to grapple with the big questions like, “Who am I? What am I doing here?” And his bedtime ritual with his son? It’s far better, and he now reads to his son at his son’s speed. Conversations happen that he didn’t have before.

One final personal Carl Honore story – after the book came out, his son came downstairs to give a homemade card to his daddy just as he was leaving for the airport on a trip to the U.S. It wasn’t a farewell card, but one that thanked him for being the best story-reading dad in the world.

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POPTech: Not Just Mars and Venus

Louann Brizendine, M.D., a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, is the founder of the Women’s and Teen Girls’ Mood and Hormone Clinic. Her message to us is that there is no such thing as the unisex brain, and that because of this there are new understandings about how men and women think,feel, and act as a result of our physiology.

While all brains in the womb start out as female, after about 8 weeks males testes releases surges of testosterone that bathe the brain and dramatically alter its development. Similarly, female brains are awashed in progesterone and estrogen, shifting their direction in powerful ways. Many of these shifts start in the womb, but continue long after birth, and especially during puberty when girls and boys experience dramatic physical changes.

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Brizendine put up a slide describing the age window of 10-15, and I found myself noting that my daughter Tara is fifteen, and my son David is eleven – right in that window. I was struck that the hormonal factors Brizendine was describing dramatic affect growth of different areas of the brain and the wiring of its synapses. For example, in boys, the amygdula — a pear-shaped clump of tissue above the brain stem — is significantly larger in boys. It reacts quickly to perceived threats as though tigers are indeed in our midst, setting off the fight-or-flight response that triggers the release of adrenaline and other hormones into the bloodstream. (That helps us also understand the men who rushed in to save those in the burning towers during 9/11 – even though they were not related.)

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Females on the other hand, have high amounts of oxytocin, “the pair-bonding molecule.” Females experience this starting from menses. Women’s brains as a result are generally better at emotional detail and non-verbal communication. (But these are not absolute. My son seems to have high emotional richness in his communication, and a high degree of empathy – traits that can easily be present in males. He’ll be a real catch for a lucky girl someday… At the same time, many females have positive traits frequently attributed to males. Both my daughter and her mom are simply amazing at math.)

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But these kinds of conversations are always risky – witness the end of Lawrence Summers tenure as president of Harvard when he attributed women’s lesser involvement in math and science fields as being related to gender differences. Louann also takes chances here by using satirical slides where SEX on the brain is spelled out in huge letters, referring to the notion that testosterone makes the area that processes sexual desire twice as large in males. She also teased women showing areas of the female brain having large sections devoted to shopping and jealousy. Maybe it’s all in the spirit of levity and fun. But I think the important thing is to be mindful of potential reductionism by this theory. It’s easy to fall into a rabbit hole where gender differences can be expressed as either/or or better than/less than, illustrating a tension between man and women.

But Louann closes on a very inspirational and positive note. She explains that in 1900, women averaged 14-15 pregnancies and 10 childbirths. The average lifespan was 39 or 40 years old. Today, 50% of the smartest people in the world are women, and lifespans are 30-40 years beyond childbearing years, and that they have control over their fertility [in many parts of the world]. Louann says that both men and women can combine their collective intellectual capital to solve the problems that humanity faces, end war, foster kindness, and make the world a better place.

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