by Wanda Waterman
You’ve heard of the slow food movement? Taking half a day to prepare a grand repast and then spending the rest of the day eating it? Sarcasm aside, making slow food a way of life is economical, healthy, sustainable, and life-enhancing. It’s a way of living that belongs smack dab in the middle of the digital age.
The slow food movement ignited a series of generalisations, and thus was born slow fashion, slow parenting, slow travel, slow gardening—you name it; whatever can be decelerated is now undergoing an existential experiment in speed reduction. By most reports, slowing things down leads to greater serenity, greater efficiency, creativity, better relationships, better health, and an escape from the exhausting and pointless treadmill that comes when we surrender our wills to the Internet with no thought to our own wellbeing, our dear ones, or our planet.
I came up with slow brain as a convenient umbrella term for slowing down the rate at which we read, write, learn, work, create, and communicate in the digital age. This involves assuming a position of personal control over what we intellectually consume and produce and an intention to do it all more mindfully.
The speed of today’s online news media is a hyperactive hound dog that needs to be brought to heel, for everybody’s sake. It jeopardises the health and livelihoods of writers, journalists, and bloggers, as well as the quality of their work, by demanding greater output with shorter deadlines.
The pressure to be the first out of the gate reduces creativity by not allowing the mind to focus and reflect. It prevents the careful investigation necessary for delivering the truth in clear, comprehensible language. If you just rip through a bunch of tweets and headlines each day you may be getting what you think is the latest news, but you may not be getting any information that matters, and what you do get may not be accurate. It may also be a highly unpleasant read.
Many who’ve chosen the long way around have reacted to the prevailing absurdity by turning back the clock and pretending that the World Wide Web is still only being used by a handful of scientists trading the latest findings on mycorrhizal networks. The Mindful Bard is not about that, for obvious reasons. Slow brain is not a rejection of information technology, but, rather, a way to live within the context of the rapid gains of the internet age by carving out tranquil interludes in which to work, learn, and communicate—slowly. We need to see the Internet as a tool enabling greater tranquility, not as the paradigm on which to model our own behaviours.
Choosing slow brain means carefully selecting what you’ll read. It means embracing “deep work” (Cal Newport’s term), and turning off the Internet when you need to create, focus, or problem-solve. It means fewer tweets and status updates and more personal exchanges with other human beings, both online and in person. It means finding ways to exchange ideas with others in a way that leads to lasting positive social change.
Think of the Internet as an employee who’ll take control of your company if you let it get too familiar. It will help you work better and faster, but then it will distract and interrupt you so often that you can’t work, do important research, or make sound business decisions. It will call you at home at the worst times, eroding the quality of your family relationships. And it’s constantly asking for a raise. In the end it will exhaust you, rob your life of meaning, and destabilise your sense of self. And when your business goes under, you’ll be looking at its taillights.
Slowing down actually saves time and trouble. Remember “a stitch in time saves nine?” Slow Brain means fewer errors. Slow reading means fewer misunderstandings, slow writing means fewer mistakes, and slow communication means fewer hurt feelings.
Pausing to reflect on our carefully chosen and planned viewing, reading times, listening sessions, and conversations can also keep our minds from becoming atrophied from dogmatism, allowing us to see an issue from different angles and to respect, understand, and even learn from another’s point of view.
Slow brain humanises consumers, respecting their real needs instead of viewing them as economic units whose buying patterns can be predicted to someone else’s benefit. Slow brain respects creativity, giving the mind enough time to nurture the best ideas. If you don’t slow down the hamster cage in your head, those brilliant thoughts, those wise life changes you need to make, are just never going to occur to you.
Step aside and let wisdom flow. Prayer, meditation, or both can help you to take control of the chaos in your head, forcing you to stop and acknowledge something bigger.
Looking for some guidance? Here’s the short list:
1. Be a “prosumer,” not a consumer; that is, exercise control over what your intellect consumes and produces. Instead of reading tweets and headlines on the run, make well-written, in-depth news investigations and literary journalism a part of your leisure reading, listening, and viewing. Be picky about your literature, thinking carefully before you commit to a book. Don’t read something just because everyone else is doing it.
2. Once you’ve picked a book, really read it. Allow it to wake you up and stir you to act or create. Highlight it, make notes, reflect. Let the book direct you to other books it suggests and that continue to spark your interest. Talk to someone about what your reading.
3. Multitasking is exhausting and it’s making you stupid. If you don’t believe me, do the research. As much as possible, do one thing at a time.
4. Put a notice on your Facebook page that goes something like this: “I won’t be on Facebook for a while because I’m trying to live a more meaningful life. I love hearing about you all, but I need something more. If any of you would like to share your problems, epiphanies, personal victories, and memories, or ask my advice, please write me a letter at the following email address so I can give you another email address for personal messages.”
5. If you have the email or postal addresses of any dear ones, write them long, erudite, well-crafted letters. Send drawing or photos, or even that meme you found online that you think they’d love. (The goal is to be slow and thoughtful, not to chuck all the good the Internet offers.)
6. Stop leaving your social media channels open all day. Just stop.
7. Never think that you’re socially obligated to check your social media accounts. Limit how often you check for updates and messages.
8. Never take your cellphone, laptop, or tablet to bed with you. Bedtime is for other things. These things take time, and should not be interrupted.
9. Find ways to use the speed of the Internet to help you find oases of silence and tranquility, and never let it waste your time. Time pressure increases with every moment you waste, so before you click on a scintillating online link title, like “You Won’t Believe What This Man Did to Punish His Cat” or “Kim Kardashian’s Patookus Falls Off,” stop and ask yourself, “Do I really need to know this? And if I do need to know this, is this vacuous-looking, poorly spelled article likely to give it to me?”
10. Seek out in-person contacts and arrange your life so that conversations are easy, pleasant, thoughtful, distraction-free, and intellectually stimulating. You and other slow brains may just change the world.
And if you still need convincing— or exhorting— here are some great links to check out.
Take your time.