Speech Melba | Society

Slow is a four-letter word

“I don’t exactly see myself farming, but I’ve thought often this year of how pleasant it would be to get off the track, feel less hustled. I wonder what exactly I mean by that,” writes the columnist.

“I don’t exactly see myself farming, but I’ve thought often this year of how pleasant it would be to get off the track, feel less hustled. I wonder what exactly I mean by that,” writes the columnist.   | Photo Credit: Sreejith R Kumar

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In this age of intense self-obsession, everything is quick-fix: fame, artistry, even outrage

I entered my 40s with a tremendous sense of anxiety that the world had gone by and left me behind. I remember fretting about all the lives I hadn’t lived, the places I hadn’t been, the books I hadn’t read.

But something magical happened in my 50s. It was like stepping out of a storm into the calm. Without really travelling more, I suddenly felt the world come home to me. It’s a funny transition. Not funny ha-ha, of course, just funny-peculiar. Physically, you’re still running to work or to chores, but mentally you’re not. Suddenly, there’s all the time in the world “for a hundred visions and revisions.” Suddenly, mellow fruitfulness isn’t just a season but a lifetime.

And so, as the year gets cooler (yes, even in Chennai) and the evenings longer, I have wished more than ever to be rid of the false urgency of the digital age. The frenetic pace at which it barrels down, seducing us to imagine that every byte and pixel matters, has made us feverish consumers and purveyors. We devour words, images, notions gluttonously. And we parade it all compulsively.

Only, in this incessant, greedy dance of consumption and display, I’m not really sure what we absorb. What do we learn? What do we make our own? What shapes us? How do we change? Do we change at all? To even think about this is to jump off the hamster wheel on which we are today, and how many of us dares to do that.

Someone did. A young man from Chennai, 25 or so, upped sticks and left for Majuli, an island on the Brahmaputra, where he now teaches village kids. Then there’s this couple who quit high-pressure jobs to take up paddy farming on a patch of land outside the city. Their nod to the fast lane is a phone and an iffy Net connection. They grind masalas on a stone and pluck gourds off a vine for lunch.

I don’t exactly see myself farming, but I’ve thought often this year of how pleasant it would be to get off the track, feel less hustled. I wonder what exactly I mean by that. I appreciate technology, so this is no Luddite dream. I need email, WhatsApp has its uses, and the smart phone makes for amazing work flexibility. So what about the digital age is most disturbing?

I think it’s the pace. Or rather the fallout of the breakneck speed at which we’re forced to live. We’ve lost the ability to read long stretches of text, we’ve lost memory, lost patience and introspection, and the ability to reason because reasoning requires time. We no longer see nuance because it’s quicker to see things through a single lens and jump to self-righteous conclusions.

What we’ve found instead are quick-fixes to fame. For instance, everyone becomes an ‘activist’ overnight. A sanctimonious post, a quotable quote and hey presto. We might be hard-pressed to even define the principles we’re defending but that’s okay. In the age of social media, the act of protesting, the rapidity of it, the publicness of it, the broadcasting of it, is in itself its raison d’être. It needs nothing more.

In a rather tragic commentary on the state of the arts, a dance guru in a recent interview says that he has created a curriculum to teach dance “as quickly as possible” because young people have no time. Dance, music, yoga — they’ve all become speedy diplomas to harvest or boxes to tick.

This neurotic, narcissistic obsession with chronicling the self and parading it is possibly this age’s most defining feature. And its most diminishing one.

The current fascination with Slow Living is also just that: a sticker for social media. Everyone has a cottage in Goa (making life miserable for the poor Goans) and a bread-maker at home for artisanal loaves. Everyone gabs about homemade pasta and walks in the rain. But these are not seen as experiences to be lived; rather they are events for breathless recording and transmitting.

The Slow Life is really just another consumable. Nothing’s slowing down when we’re still buying more, eating more, clicking more. We’re still on that hamster wheel. And that’s where we’ll meet again, come 2019.

Where the writer tries to make sense of society with seven hundred words and a bit of snark.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 11:15:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/slow-is-a-four-letter-word/article25848974.ece

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