Facebook versus Slowness

I joined Facebook this week and I find myself lodged so deep in the crevice of this addiction that I can no longer see the light. (It occurs to me that I should open the balcony doors in our apartment. There… that’s better). Facebook offers the user an opportunity to keep track of a group of friends (you can invite people to be your friend or they can invite you) and includes cool features such as your wall (where any friends can publish comments in a public way), an inbox where you can receive and send private messages, and an update feature whereby you can tell your friends what you are up to (I am making a toasted tomato sandwich for lunch; I am celebrating the SENS victory; I am contemplating the universe). Facebook is incredibly user-friendly and even provides a blog explaining new features and the thinking behind them. The sky is the limit where choosing “friends” is concerned; you can have two friends or 568.

The problem with Facebook (and it’s a BIGGIE) is that everything is about right now. Who is online right now? (You can actually check who has logged on in the last few minutes). What are my friends doing right now? What pictures have friends posted recently: in the past day, in the past hour, in the past 5 minutes? Everything about the site is immediate, instantaneous, RIGHT NOW!

Just writing about this makes my heart pound like a cup of café con leche consumed at midnight and I find myself wanting to check my page just in case I have missed anything. And that is the problem.

This brand new slavery to Facebook rubs raw against a recent commitment to the idea of living more slowly. I recently read Canadian journalist Carl Honore’s book, “In Praise of Slowness” and can recommend it highly. He starts with a great story of being stuck at the airport in Rome and coming absolutely UNGLUED at the thought of being stuck there for several hours. As he waits, he remembers having been delayed at this same airport as a young man travelling through Europe; curiously, as a 19 year-old he experienced no anxiety or impatience at the change in travel plans. He met and interacted with fascinating people during his overnight delay and remembers that night in Rome as one of the highlights of his trip. Waiting at the airport in the present day, Honore also begins to reflect on a book of bedtime stories that he has recently purchased. Honore, who does love reading to his small son, admits that he is often agitated when his son asks for another story and finds himself looking at his watch and thinking about the pile of things to do on his desk. The remarkable thing about this new book is that each story is short enough to be read in a minute and Honore feels delighted at the idea of whipping off three or four stories in under five minutes and getting back to work. He was, when he bought the book, dazzled by the idea of the time he would “save”. At the end of the introduction, Honore is asking himself what has happened to him and if it is possible to get back to a slower life.

In his discussion of slowness, he examines a number of “slow” movements including slow food and slow cities (both movements started in Italy), slow sex (tantric sex, for example), slow exercise, slow education including home schooling, and even slowing down behind the wheel. I think my dad would say that I have always lived slowly… except for the reading.

Here is what I am doing to slow down:
1. On weekday mornings, I leave the house a few minutes earlier so that I can walk slowly to a nearby patiseria and buy a fresh-baked pastry on my way to school. It feels like such a treat.
2. I am letting people pass me, and move me (gently) on the sidewalks of Barcelona. 2.5 million people live in this city so we are packed in here pretty tight and people’s street manners are not very lovely. Their manners are absent, actually. It is the anti-Canada… NO ONE ever says they are sorry, even when they have committed some small crime against courtesy. What has happened to me (and some other foreigners who have confessed to me) is that I have responded to the hustle-bustle by speeding up and becoming more aggressive on the sidewalks of Barcelona. Now, I am trying to slow my pace a bit… if I miss this train, there will be another in three or four minutes. In truth, sometimes I forget that I have slowed down and find myself in the middle of rushrushrush… I am a work in progress.
3. Now that DP is back in Canada, I am cooking for myself again and I am trying to buy more of my fruits and vegetables at the market or at the fruit stall on Travessera. The benefits are that the fruit does not come wrapped in styrofoam and cellophane (nothing natural-sounding about those two words), the food has recently been in the ground somewhere very close to Barcelona (and not in Andalusia), and it is cheaper. Good goals.
4. I am no longer concerned with the length of my blogs. If I have a lot to say, I say it. Ultimately, I think that many blogs are more meaningful for the people who write them than the people who read them… so I will not be a slave to the crisply concise one-paragraph blog that is so in vogue RIGHT NOW. People can read what they like and, if the post is too long, you will just skip the rest. No big deal.
For me, this idea of writing as many words as I need in order to tell my story is connected to my disavowal of the 30-second sound-bite. I love Oprah, that daytime warrior of self-help and good books for all North American women, but I do wish that she would let people speak… not just in little one-sentence-bites (in which she often interjects), but in stories. People have important stories to tell. Perhaps the secret to living most fully in 2007 is to create a private universe with fewer friends and more time to hear their stories and participate in their lives. This is NOT a Facebook universe; no one (that I know) has time for truly meaningful exchanges with 600 “friends” on a regular basis. Facebook provides a bite, a nibble, an update. I am worried that kids growing up right now do not understand what it means to have a genuine and original conversation… one that does not involve MSN-speak such as LOL (laugh out loud) and OMG (Oh my God!). For clarification, I will not be adopting any of these short forms.
5. I am trying to slow down my reading speed and savour each word. This is hard for me as I have been a fast reader for a long, long time. I remember, when I was a teenager, dad would say, “Are you reading all the words on that page… because it doesn’t look like you could possibly be reading all the words.” I wasn’t… he was right.
6. I am staying at the Barca game, the opera… whatever the event… until it is finished. In a crazy counter-culture move, I am not choosing to leave early so that I can beat the crowd; I am letting the crowd go on ahead of me. This way, I get to watch the event in its entirety and have a bit of time to reflect before I leave the venue.
7. DP and I are thinking of living closer to school next year so that we spend less time commuting. We do LOVE our neighbourhood so, in the end, we may opt for the Gracia lifestyle over the convenience of being closer to school. Whatever we decide, it will be a (hopefully unhurried) decision based on the kind of life we want to live.

I am sure that I will think of more ways to slow down as I get better at it. Europe is a great place to slow ones pace as Europeans tend to strive for a much healthier balance between work and the rest of life. Most countries in Europe have legislated a shorter work-week (in France, you cannot legally work more than 35 hours a week) and most people do not worship at the temple of “my car was in the office parking lot longer than yours was.” Europeans linger over meals, they walk in the park, and some still nap. Nice!

Ultimately, a tool like Facebook has its place; it has already helped me re-connect with old friends from university and a bunch of our kids from Mexico. I want to keep using this type of technology while striving to make the most of those reclaimed friendships… to make plans to see people in person. To tell our stories to each other.

Viva the long blog, I say. Viva!

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