insights, ironies and idiosyncrasies in communication and design

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Sunday, 28 December 2008

Slow is smooth; smooth is fast.

Christmas messages are often the bane of Christmas – dull and predictable in both content and delivery and only usually surprising in what they omit rather than what they contain. This year, thanks to Channel Four, and the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the whole affair has been fraught with controversy.

This post is the closest I’m going to get to one – this year or any year. And it comes in the form of a book review – a first for THWC.

I spotted In Praise Of Slow gathering dust (appropriately or not) in the bargain basement of my local Kinokuniya on Christmas Eve – oddly only days before the universal truth that is the headline of this post was passed onto me by a journalist and spiritual commentator friend of mine, Bevan Powrie. In doing so he had inadvertently lead me to the book – during what I felt like was an episode of his biurnal recurrence syndrome, but which he assures me was pure synchronicity, albeit a strong case of.

What compounded the oddity was that though this title is a long lost cousin of a family of exposes that I have read (including No Logo, Fast Food Nation, Authenticity and Blink) I’d never even come across this title, not even once, though it was written over four years ago. I guess I am just, er, slow. And I was about to see why that wasn’t a bad thing.

Though I find the existence of this collection of tributes to steady social revolutionaries (that denounce haste rather than pace and whose MO is about finding tempo giusto) more interesting than the actual book or its contents, my initial contention was, rather ironically, the book’s pace.

Stretching three points over 250 pages seemed a little gratuitous; the leisurely examples unnecessary, but I guess that’s Honore’s point – perhaps the very intention of the book is to encourage (read: force) the reader into long, drawn out appreciation.

Slow is also padded for another reason – to sell – but I would have paid more for an abridged version. [Interestingly enough, Honore almost anticipates (foretells) this.] Sidestep the filling if you like and the introduction and the conclusion go some way to telling his story.

In all fairness he does give the reader a pointer – but unfortunately it doesn't come soon enough. The chapter on reading slowly came, for me at 200-odd pages in, too late in the book – as I was already whizzing through the thing when it flagged me down. (Perhaps I'd be better off with Gleik's Faster. )

In spite of my initial criticisms though there are a number of profound insights within the pages of this text – along with of course understanding the how and why of Bevan’s message. And it wasn’t that the clock, rather than the steam engine or the Spinning Jenny, as my history master had me believe, was the single most important invention/fulcrum of the European industrial revolution; nor that time is the new money, the new currency of the 21st Century (apt though that it is as we collectively mourn the death of the dollar); more that in using time and speed to hide from death, we divide up time in such a way we become more acutely and bitterly aware of our end. 

This is as fundamental as a message can get. 

Whether you're manically scouring the shelves at Woolworths or crazily shopping online there's something in here for you (somewhere) – though I wouldn't necessarily rush out and buy a copy.


Charles Frith said...

Easily your finest post. You do flippancy and gravity most excellent. I aim to slip you a Rohypnol and make you write. I am bad like that.

Rupert James said...

Thank you, Charles.

Fortunately or unfortunately, you caught me flashing my initial scribbles again.

Just hope the sense of gravity and flippancy shines through the fuller body copy version.