Slowness

The rise of technology has meant that any time we are bored or in need of something to do, we can go on our phones and check out social media, or watch a part of a television show. Whenever we get bored, we default to doing something else; doing nothing does not come to our mind. When we are asked “Are you free tomorrow to review my latest blog post?” most people would say that they were “very busy” but would try to “review it quickly”. In actuality though, if a person were to take stock of what they had planned for that day, they would most likely realize that they had enough time to review the post in depth. The truth — one that we continuously ignore — is that 24 hours in a day is enough, but we are always looking for distractions. “How many likes did I get on my latest Tweet?” “The next episode of X is out — I should watch that now!” are things we consider all too often.

The rise of these constant distractions has meant that we have adopted a culture wherein doing something is better than doing nothing. I have written about this in previous essays, but the quick summary is that our society believes that if you are busy, then you are viable and making a positive contribution to society; if you are not doing something, you are not reaching your full potential. The always-on nature of technology has made most people adopt a mindset where when they get bored, they go do something else just so they can say that they have “been busy” that day. Most of the things they do are just distractions — they add very little value to their lives.

Our desire for being busy and our proclivities to search for distractions whenever we get bored means that we are often not staying fully focused on what is going on in the moment. When we are reading an op-ed and get bored, our first reaction is to check our notifications. It is more difficult for us to persevere and actually finish the article. Even when finish the article, we are always looking for the next thing to do. We are going to fast that we are not taking the time that we need to actually understand what we are reading.

It is from truly understanding something that we can derive value from it. Understanding requires us to be totally focused on the task at-hand — to be thinking about the task, synthesizing information, and evaluating each decision we make. It requires us to explore different paths, reach dead ends, and recover and find a better path to advance our knowledge. Understanding does not integrate well with the fast-paced culture which we are used to. We need to be slow — deliberate — and think about what we are reading and doing.

Reading a blog post is not enough to understand its contents, but yet we think that when we have finished, we should move onto the next thing. If we say that we read ten blog posts in one day, it makes us sound significantly more productive than if we say that we read and thought about two blog posts in one day. We move onto the next thing; then the next thing. We do not take a moment to think about what we have read — to make internal connections — and ensure that we truly understand the topic we have read about.

One major impact of our culture of being fast is on how we form opinions. In order to form our own independent opinions about a subject, we need to spend time thinking about it. Yet most of us seem to be able to come up with some opinion about anything after reading a few sentences. We have been conditioned to believe that reading an article means that we have read all of the information we need to master the subject — this view is dangerous though. This is especially prominent in politics. Most people read an article quickly — or even just the headline and a quick description — and then quickly form an opinion on the subject. Perhaps there are facts in the article which contradict their original stance, but because they have not spent time reading the article in full and digesting the information, they will not know any better. If we don’t truly understand what we have read, it is impossible to render an informed opinion. It takes a lot of work to create an opinion and to be confident in what we have been thinking about.

Being fast has also made it more difficult for us to experience our world and each individual event. We are always looking for the next thing to do — what will we watch on television, what emails we need to respond to, or who we need to meet with next. If we take the slow approach, then we can spend more time reflecting on each individual event. If you are writing a blog post, rather than writing the article and forgetting about it as soon as you are done, you should instead take some time to reflect on your work. Recognize a job well done. Make any necessary edits. Think about how you can improve the article. After all, slow is about appreciating quality over quantity, and quality is usually best in the long-term. Being slow makes it easier for you to truly experience life and make the most out of every moment. You can also make better memories when you take the slow approach — you are focused on every little detail, and want to experience what is going on in the moment over what may happen in the future.

Before we proceed onward to discuss how we can fight the culture of fastness, we must first ask: what does it mean to be slow? Slow means being still, calm, reflective, analytical, and focused on doing the best job that you possibly can. Slow means that you are focused on producing quality work over quantity. Fast, on the other hand, means that you are always looking to do something, you are stressed, focused on quantity, and attempt to multi-task to balance your busy schedule. If we compare these two side-by-side, we realize that being slow sounds like a more effective strategy — we are focused on being deliberate and producing quality work. Our culture of moving fast has meant that we have lost our grasp on the benefits of being slow, but upon further reflection, moving back to a slow approach would be prudent for most people.

How do we fight the culture of fastness? This is not an easy question to answer; after all, being fast is engrained into our culture. However, the best way to get started is to stop after doing something. If you have read an article, stop. If you have just finished writing an essay, stop. If you have just watched an interview or lecture, stop. Think about what you have experienced and process it. Don’t worry about what is next — worry about making sure that you can get everything out of each experience. After all, the next thing can wait, and there will be plenty of time to take notes on it — the thing you are doing now is already happening, and if you move onto the next thing too early, you will never get all of the value from what you are doing right now.

Finally, being fast means that you are more likely to make mistakes, especially when making decisions. Indeed, in many cases we are pressured to make a decision. However, there are very few cases wherein taking five minutes to evaluate a decision — or even apply a decision-making framework like a SWOT analysis — would be considered an unproductive use of your time. Taking time to evaluate decisions in-depth before committing to a single path reduces the likelihood that you make the wrong decision, and will allow you to be more confident in your path. Further, choosing a bad decision is never a one-time deal — bad decisions always come back later. Thinking slow allows us to mitigate this risk, and focus on doing the best job possible.

Prioritize fast over slow. Stop and reflect after doing something; don’t move onto the next thing. Be slow.