[Paleopsych] BBC: Time to switch off and slow down

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Tue Jul 19 01:17:21 UTC 2005

Time to switch off and slow down
Published: 2005/07/14 10:44:27 GMT

    By Kevin Anderson
    BBC News website

    At a hi-tech conference bristling with bloggers constantly checking
    messages on Blackberries, smartphones, laptops and handheld computers,
    it is odd to hear a speaker suggest an e-mail free day.

    But journalist Carl Honoré told attendees of the TED conference in
    Oxford they should unplug and slow down in a world that was stuck in
    fast- forward.

    And for a wired world accustomed to having nearly unlimited
    information and the boundless choices of online shopping, it seems
    almost heretical to suggest that the infinite possibilities of the
    modern world leave us less satisfied instead of more.

    But author Barry Schwartz told the conference that it was better when
    we had only a few choices of salad dressing instead of the 175 at his
    local supermarket.

    These were just some of the suggestions to the audience at TED in
    their search for the good life.

    TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) brings together experts in
    design, technology, and entertainment to share their ideas about our

    'Roadrunner culture'

    We live in a world where instant gratification is not fast enough, in
    a world of not only speed dating, but even of speed yoga, said Mr

    The author of In Praise of Slowness decided to decelerate after he
    found himself speed reading bedtime stories to his son.

    He even found himself excited when he read in the newspaper a story
    about one-minute bedtime stories.

    Some choice is better than none, but more choices don't make things
    Barry Schwartz

    But he caught himself: "Has it really come to this that I'm ready to
    fob off my son with a sound bite at the end of the day?"

    People point to urbanisation, consumerism and globalisation as the
    cause of this "roadrunner culture", he said, but it is more

    "In our society, time is a scarce resource," he said. "We turn
    everything in race with the finish line but we never reach that finish

    But around the world, there is a backlash against this culture, such
    as the slow food and slow city movement in Italy.

    Across the world, people are slowing down, and they are finding that
    they "eat better, make love better, exercise better, work better".

    And Mr Honoré told a crowd flush with technology that they needed to
    rediscover the off button.

    Technology was supposed to make us more efficient, he explained. But
    our lives are often so driven by interruptions that a recent report on
    "info-mania" found that the flood of e-mails was such a distraction
    that it cut workers IQ by 10 points.

    One department at software firm Veritas has declared Friday e-mail
    free, and it found that the day has become its most productive.

    More choice is less satisfying

    Continuing the theme that less is more, author and scholar Barry
    Schwartz challenged the orthodoxy that to maximise freedom and welfare
    we should maximise choice.

    It is such a deeply embedded assumption that no one questions it, said
    Mr Schwartz, who explored the idea in his book, The Paradox of Choice.

    He pointed to his local supermarket where he has a choice of 175 salad
    dressings. 40 toothpastes, 75 ice teas, 230 soups and 285 varieties of

    Choice is good, he said, but in modern, affluent societies most people
    are confronted with a bewildering array of choices that leads to

    He said that his students sometimes become stuck in low-wage jobs
    because they fear making the wrong choice of career.

    Some professors at liberal arts colleges now joke that they "take
    students who would have been stuck working at McDonalds and makes them
    people who are stuck working at Starbucks".

    With so many options confronting us about almost every decision, there
    is a greater chance that we will regret the decision we do make.

    The myriad choices raise our expectations and create the anticipation
    of perfection.

    Regret after making the wrong decision or what is perceived as the
    wrong decision leads to self-blame, depression and, in extreme cases,
    suicide, he said.

    We are bad at realising the downside of choice.

    "Some choice is better than none, but more choices don't make things
    better," he argued.

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