Slow it down

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When your daughter and her friends come home from college during winter break, you catch up on basic popular-culture phenomena. This includes terms, such as “rad” (for radical), music, and television shows, such as “Portlandia” (covered in the snobbish The New Yorker).

It’s not that high culture needs to legitimize popular culture, but rather that the one feeds off the other, while the rest of us catch up.

It’s not the exposure to popular culture which jolts parents in these annual encounters, but the pace that surrounds us. While academics are used to recall facts and data, pull a book off their shelves to cite something relevant, our children click or Google anything under the sun in nanoseconds on their laptops or cell-phones.

With this in mind, I was watching numerous taped episodes of “Criminal Minds,” skipping commercials at will. In a few minutes an entire puzzle is detailed, only to be solved by a highly skilled FBI team of behavioral scientists. In less than 30 minutes, a mystery is resolved and a criminal captured.

By contrast, when watching “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” based on John le Carre’s spy novel, it takes two hours to plod along a circuitous road, slowly but surely eliminating options along the way. At the very end, the traitor in the highest echelons of the British secret service is uncovered. It’s 1973, not 2012. What a difference four decades make.

It likewise took time to complete a business transaction some four decades ago. A letter was sent, a check was “in the mail,” and lunch took two hours. I remember my own first job interview after college.

Driven by the chauffeured-limousine of the owner to his club, we had time to speak in the car, at lunch, and on the way back. It seemed like eternity, but it surely was at least three hours. We both figured, in our own ways, that if we could stand each other for that long, maybe working in each other’s presence was manageable.

By now there is a “Slow Thinking Movement” which is about taking time to talk with others about the things that are important rather than the things that are urgent. And this, incidentally, is what we must keep in mind when we interview, whether a potential co-worker or a friend.

It was that slow technique of interviewing that proved so magical when I finally found a chef for the Warehouse who stayed with me for more than eight years — a record of sorts for finicky and suspicious restaurant owners and prima-dona chefs. A long walk around downtown eventually forced certain issues to surface. We slowed it down enough to get a better feel that we were beginning a relationship and not a job of convenience.

In the digital age, speed is everything. The psychiatrist Elias Aboujaoude even claims that it changes our personality into an “e-personality.” The virtual self can hide better, reinvents itself more often, disassociate more readily, and form relationships more quickly than ever before.

The price is obvious, too, both psychologically and financially. Internet addictions are more lethal and more wide-spread than those observed at Cripple Creek or Las Vegas.

But what surprised me most these past few weeks was the sense of relief these young students displayed just hanging out, and doing 1000-piece old-fashioned puzzles and even creating a Lego design of a helicopter.

Maybe it was the altitude or the fireplace, the meals and alcohol; maybe it was because they were tired. Maybe they felt safe to slow down and reflect, think through plans for their future, rather than sound clever and witty.

It’s the same concern I’ve had for years about dining at restaurants, not simply with “slow food” as a cultural commitment, but for diners to appreciate an aesthetic experience that deserves to be savored, one moment at a time.

Look around, take it all in. Think about what your body needs and what your soul desires. Think of your companions and the staff, respecting the situation as a whole, rather than just feeding an engine.

Slow speech, as I have learned moving from Boston to Colorado Springs 25 years ago, doesn’t mean slow thinking, as the Noble Laureate Daniel Kahneman suggests in Thinking, Fast and Slow.

It also means that our intuition is as important as our logic. Let your thoughts gather slowly and deliberately, because everything you say or do has consequences far beyond your wildest dreams.

We used to say “smell the roses;” we used to gesture towards the Buddha; we even thought that yoga would remind us to breathe more slowly. Now we should say “slow the connectivity:” perhaps this will force us to actually read our e-mails, appreciate subtleties, and not press too hastily the “send” button.

Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS. He can be reached at rsassower@gmail.com Previous articles can be found at sassower.blogspot.com