Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Book: In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore

Against Sundials
The gods confound the man who first found out
How to distinguish hours! Confound him, too,
Who in this place set up a sundial,
To cut and hack my days so wretchedly
Into small portions! When I was a boy,
My belly was my sundial -- one surer,
Truer, and more exact than any of them.
This dial told me when 'twas proper time
To go to dinner, when I had aught to eat;
But nowadays, why even when I have,
I can't fall to unless the sun gives leave.
The town's so full of these confounded dials
The greatest part of the inhabitants,
Shrunk up with hunger, crawl along the street.
                                                                                    - Plautus

In Praise of Slow by Carl Honore starts of well but tapers off a little thereafter. When I opened the book, my optimism lifted upon seeing three pages of critical praise, much of it stemming from reputable sources. Then I read the first quote which described it as "The No Logo of its age" and my heart sank several notches below where it had started. No Logo sucked.Off the bat then, I was reading this book with a critical and cautious eye.

Like No Logo, In Praise of Slow book has a tendency to over eggs its case, sometimes with selective facts and sometimes with faulty or biased thinking. For example, the author, despite having written for the Economist, says that "capitalism is getting too fast for it's own good". This is a sweeping statement that flies in the face of that the fact that on balance, the benefits capitalism has brought clearly outweigh the negatives. A more balanced approach would be to take this net benefit position as an explicit starting point and then going on to say that the "need for speed" creates unnecessary side-effects which we would do well to mitigate? Okay, I guess the book is supposed to be a rousing manifesto to action instead of a balanced investigation but I do think something a bit more measured and considered would have been more powerful in persuading the rational mind. The anti-capitalist slant clearly appeals to the masses and will help shift volume, but for me it is a clear detraction, an opportunity missed.

Gripes aside, there are a great many positives to be found. Hornore does a particularly good job of discussing how scheduling and the need to be ever faster and more efficient permeates our lives at great speed during the Industrial Revolution, to create stresses and sub-optimal outcomes, and he goes on to illustrate how the rate of change is forever increasing. On this, I concur. It is a plain fact of the age as it has been for every age since the 1800s onwards. Getting ahead means doing more things faster and this results in agitation when we are slowed down, especially if this slowing down is due to other people's slowness. We cook faster, eat faster, and travel faster. We often think fast, and will cram our experiences and cram our consumption. Faster and faster. Everything is a race. And because there isn't enough time, sleep has to be forsaken. We need to be reminded every now and then that there is much value in slowing down; not being lazy but simply taking the time to appreciate things and to do things rightly and properly.

Overall, "In Praise of Slow" is well worth reading, even accounting for its faults. It is well written and makes many good points. It also makes the reader think about the pace of their own life and how it may be changed it for the better.

Quotes and notes to point rushing these things ; )

*** 1/2

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