In Praise of Slow:
How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed

by Carl Honroré, Vintage Canada, 2004, 310 pages.
Reviewed by Jack Heppner.

Gandhi once said that there is more to life than increasing its speed. However, especially since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, Honraré says, societies in developed countries have speeded up life on every front. Having become obsessed with productivity, speed and consumerism, we have rushed headlong into a smorgasbord of ailments that are plaguing modern life. But many are waking up to the reality that indeed there is a price to pay. In the end, the “fast life as the good life” is only a mirage that quickly disappears as the damning after-effects such a lifestyle engenders make their appearances.

In an age where speed rules and everyone must move faster just to keep up, anything that slows us down becomes an enemy. But Honraré challenges that prevailing mentality, suggesting that if we could all learn to slow down we would experience a richer, fuller life as a result. In fact, the author suggests that the speed of life today borders on insanity for an increasing number of people – a situation that erodes both health and happiness.

I found Honraré’s challenge to put on the brakes, or at least check the instruments on our dashboards, clearly argued and quite persuasive. In fact his style of writing encourages readers to digest his line of thinking slowly – one chapter at a time. His first chapter in which he traces the development of timing devices to monitor our lives like a metronome is very enlightening. I found it interesting to note that the wind-up alarm clock was invented in 1876, two years after my forefathers came to Canada. It makes me wonder how those pioneers got their work done without an alarm bell to wake them up every morning. As we hurry along through life today, one social observer noted, we tend to walk as though a dinner is ahead of us and a bailiff behind us.

After making an overall argument for slowing down in his opening chapters, Honraré then illustrates what that might look like in at least a half-dozen spheres of our lives. In an era where Fast Food has taken us by storm, there is a backlash beginning to happen as the Slow Food movement is demonstrating the advantages of taking time to eat with family and friends. Some cities have begun implementing specific strategies to give priority to people over the automobile and green spaces over pavement. In the medical field, researchers are discovering what our grandparents knew implicitly – that there is indeed a linkage between our minds and bodies. Cutting-edge medical practitioners are beginning to treat their patients in more holistic ways – aware that illness is not only a physiological phenomenon. All too often it is a product of haste.

The author even has a chapter on slow sex. He suggests that even though our culture is riddled with sexual images, good sex is hard to find in a speed-oriented world. And entrepreneurs are beginning to discover that speed in manufacturing often results in lack of quality control and that over-worked employees are not very productive. Honraré also notes that we have deluded ourselves into thinking that we need to rest less, but that this has only served to heighten our stress levels and induce myriad numbers of illnesses that are hard to diagnose. In all this hurrying, he says, the greatest damage is done to children. Without time for free, creative play more and more children are becoming overstressed even before their teen years.

This book is a clarion call to slow down if we want to avoid disaster. Even though we are caught in this web of speed, the author suggests that there are many ways in which we can put on the brakes and begin to find our own tiempo gusto – the life pace that works best for each of us. Although not an explicitly “Christian” book, I think people of faith – especially those overworked in keeping Christian institutions afloat – should sit up and take note. Speed kills, especially when conditions are slippery and wet. And such are our conditions.

This is a must read book for all who think they don’t have the time to do it!