Turning back the clock
The Society for the Deceleration of Time is determined to push the slow agenda.
SIXTY-one-year-old Uwe Kliemt jumps up from the grand piano to perform a minuet step. “See how speed masks the work’s true character?” he asks the audience. “Only when I slow down, can I truly hear it. Only then does it touch me.”
Night has fallen on the small Austrian ski resort of Wagrain, nestled deep in a valley ringed by mountains. The hourly toll of church bells is the only sound to disturb the silence of the moonlit night.
Kliemt, a musicologist from Hamburg in Germany with salt and pepper beard and piercing blue eyes, is one of dozens of thinkers and businessmen gathered here for the annual meeting of the Society For The Deceleration Of Time.
For him, speed in classical music, he says, has become “a dogma to the detriment of the beauty and meaning of the original works.”
And that is why, he says, he “refuses to give in to the cult of speed, which so many people associate with virtuosity in music.”
Born 20 years ago at Austria’s Klagenfurt University, the think tank now boasts 700 members in Europe, North and South America – academics and artists but also entrepreneurs, therapists, lawyers and even politicians.
‘Salarymen’ throng Tokyo’s subway system daily, part of a go-fast culture in speed-driven Japan where the word is coined for death through overwork.
All are convinced that the speeding-up of our way of life is shaping the future of mankind, and that it is urgent to turn back the clock.
Each in their own lives has worked to slow down, in order to “rethink our skewed relationship with time” and “rediscover a happy, meaningful life,” says the society’s chairman, Munich lawyer Erwin Heller.
“Ask the question: what will I remember two years from now of the week I have just lived through, and most people will say ‘nothing’,” says Imre Marton Remenyi, a psychotherapist, teacher and sexologist.
“We should spend at least two hours a day doing things we really enjoy – and that is also true for sex,” he adds.
During three days in Wagrain, some 50 society members – most from Germany, Switzerland and Austria – brought their background and ideas to a high-flying debate, in between bracing walks, hearty food and stints in the sauna.
Does the cult of speed in modern-day society stem from the crises we face – in global finance or the environment – or are the crises themselves caused by our helter-skelter behaviour, asked Dietrich Kropfberger, a JUST half an hour’s drive from Milan, Italy’s fast-moving capital of finance, fashion and design, Abbiategrasso relishes its “slow” identity.
Signs marking the town limits bear the symbol of an orange snail with houses perched on its shell – proud symbol of Abbiategrasso’s link to Cittaslow, an offshoot of the quarter-century old Slow Food movement.
“Cittaslow wants to bring humans back to a calmer kind of life, one that is also more human,” says Roberto Albetti, the town’s mayor.
“It’s not about going backwards in terms of progress but about agreeing to sacrifice a little comfort in order to have better quality goods.”
The Cittaslow project – which means slow city – involves more than 140 towns of fewer than 50,000 inhabitants in 20 countries including Germany, United States and South Korea.
About half are in Italy, where Slow Food was born first as a protest against fast-food culture, before blossoming into an international movement devoted to “good, clean and fair” food.
Cittaslow’s goal is to foster a sense of “identity and community spirit in the face of the modern world” through a range of environmental social, urban and gastronomical policies, says the organisation in a statement.
For Abbiategrasso, which lies just 20km west of Milan, slow-living begins with transport. The town centre is closed off to cars during the weekend, and even during German economist.
Art is one way of getting people to slow down and think, especially in big cities, argues the Swiss sociologist Mark Riklin. “People stop and smile. By slowing down we rediscover the details that make life beautiful.”
Frithjof Bergmann, 80, a philosopher from the University of Michigan who has advised General Motors in his long career but also spent two years living as a hermit in the woods, believes it is time for “a new form of work and culture”.
Martin Liebmann, a businessman in his 40s who drove down from Luebeck in Germany on board a Citroen Deesse – “a car for taking the time to enjoy life” – is a picture of contentment.
His small marketing firm is a success, he takes pleasures in the human contacts, in choosing his clients, and he says he has made slowing down “a state of mind”.
For him, as for many of those in Wagrain, the process has spurred a more spiritual approach to life, because, says the linguist Karl Auwaerter, “without that nothing can work, whatever speed you choose.”
Even high-tech firms, after decades spent driving the acceleration of the global economy, are now recognising its ill-effects, leading Google, IBM and others to launch a research group into information overload.
Studies by Microsoft and Hewlett Packard indicate modern-day office work with its constant interruptions by e-mails, phones, text messages can temporarily slice 10 points off a person’s IQ.
Even in speed-driven Japan, where there is a word – karoshi – for death through overwork, the Sloth Club was created a few years ago to lift people out of the go-fast culture. “Speed helped the world tip into modernity two centuries ago, but now it may be driving it into the abyss,” warns the German philosopher Hartmut Rosa in a recent book.
Slow advocates see the global economic crisis, caused, in their view, by an obsession with fast growth, fast consumption and fast profits, as the latest validation of their worldview. – AFP
Slow-living does not mean reining in economic development. Abbiategrasso actively promotes its local delicacies in Italy and around the world, helping small businesses like the Gorgonzola cheese-maker. the week the streets are packed with bicycles.
While Italian cities are notoriously unfriendly to bicycles, Abbiategrasso officials once counted 9,000 bikes cruising the streets in a single morning – in a town of just 32,000.
“It’s like heaven here. The town is calm and beautiful. I couldn’t live in Milan, it’s too loud, there is too much traffic,” says Sebastiano Pettinato, a retiree.
“I prefer smaller cities, we help each other out, there are more human relationships. I would never live in Milan or Rome, where you don’t even know whether you can trust your neighbour,” adds Lara Manzoni, a teacher. – AFP