Taking It Slow: Understanding the Slowness Movement

michael pollak slow flickr

Life is moving too fast. In our always-on culture, more and more people are saying that they feel overwhelmed: too much to do, too much information, too many responsibilities, and, above all, not enough time. These feelings have sparked a growing movement to slow down the pace of life.

This idea of slowness—which began 25 years ago with a rejection of fast food in favor of more tasteful, carefully prepared, and more nutritious food known as slow food—has spread to encompass a wide range of activities, products, and services ranging from slow cities to slow travel, from slow sex to slow parenting, from slow fashion to slow shopping.

“To me the possibilities are limitless. I think of [slowness] as a lens through which you can examine any human endeavor. The notion of doing things at the right speed and being fully engaged in whatever you’re doing can apply to anything.” – Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slowness

3 KEY FINDINGS

  • A growing number of consumers are balking at the unceasing speed of life and turning to a slew of slow products, services, and activities.
  • The prolonged economic downturn focused attention on the slowness movement, putting a brake on many forms of excess and prompting many to reevaluate priorities.
  • Slowness encapsulates such virtues as quality, durability, mindfulness, and sustainability.

3 WAYS TO SHIFT INTO SLOW GEAR

While seen most often today as a relatively recent response to the hectic, fast-paced, always-on social and economic culture of the last several decades, the spark of the slowness movement is often traced to a protest against the opening of a McDonald’s restaurant in Rome in 1986. Within three years, the slow food movement had become international—and delegates from 15 nations endorsed the Slow Food Manifesto, which gave voice to many of the principles that still characterize the broader slowness movement that continues to grow today.

  • Rejection of speed for its own sake. The Slow Food Manifesto refers to “fast life” as a virus that enslaves people, while the broader slowness movement also views people as struggling against the oppressive force of time. Most people today see time as the enemy, something to be defeated or overthrown. Adherents of slowness, however, see time as an ally, living by the credo that “good things take time.”
  • Living in the moment. The slowness movement emphasizes slowing down to savor the pleasures of the moment, rather than rushing headlong toward a future goal.5 Adherents of slowness put more emphasis on enjoying the journey rather than focusing on the destination.6 For this reason, delayed gratification is often preferred to instant gratification.
  • Mindfulness. The slowness movement advocates mindfulness—observing, participating, and enjoying every experience—rather than rushing through experiences. The slowness movement also embraces experiences and products—whether food, sex, or clothing—that have a story behind them. Mindful consumers take the time to learn the whole story.

3 Rules of Cittaslow

Akin to the slow travel movement is the Cittaslow (slow city) movement. Organized in Italy in 1999, the Cittaslow movement encourages member cities to resist the globalization and homogenization of the world’s towns and cities.

  • Committed to the virtues of “less traffic, less noise, and fewer crowds” and the goal of remaining livable, sustainable, and hospitable, Cittaslow cities adhere to traditions and traditional ways of doing things.
  • Cittaslow restricts applicants for certification to cities and towns that have a population of 50,000 or less, and has certified more than 175 cities and towns on five continents as “slow cities.”
  • Even cities much too large to be certified by Cittaslow are adopting many aspects of the slowness philosophy. The bike rental programs in cities like New York and Paris bring to life some of the goals of the slow city concept. And a growing number of cities are closing some streets to car and truck traffic to make them more pedestrian-friendly. Bogotá, Colombia, for example, closes 120 kilometers of its streets to vehicles every Sunday.

3 BUSINESS IMPLICATIONS

  • Quality—not just being built well, but being built to last—is a hallmark of slow consumption. Companies should therefore continue to monitor carefully the development of the slowness trend. If it continues to grow in strength and influence, product and service quality will only increase in importance. Because quality will become foremost among the slow consumers’ prime purchase criteria, brands that can accurately do so should heighten their emphasis on craftsmanship and quality—the amount of time (and care) devoted to creating and producing.
  • Durability and longevity are also valued by the slowness movement. Since they put an emphasis on durability and longevity, companies should explore ways to bring these attributes to life in their manufactured goods. For instance, designing physical products to be adaptable, upgradable, and modular—much like software is today—may be one avenue to explore.
  • Leisure is also an important part of the slow movement. As Carl Honoré notes, “One of the main aims of the slow movement is to restore leisure to its rightful place at the core of our lives…. We need to relearn the lost art of doing nothing…, of just being instead of [always] doing.” If the appreciation of slowness continues to grow and more and more consumers take greater care to block out free time, it will be a boon to the leisure industry.