Slowareness – the art of slowing things down to create awareness.
Richard Mulholland, founder of Missing Links, so poignantly condensed this philosophy at the recent FluxTrend Review by highlighting that contemporary culture moves at such an incredibly fast pace; that individuals hardly ever have a moment to be aware, digest and retain information.
Our lives, as they exist in the quagmire of contemporary culture, are intertwined in intricate patterns of living (routines). The progressive nature of technology feeds the obsessive craze of gadgets and the need to be connected thus divides attention across multiple channels. Technology has had a profound effect on culture. We are faced with a kind of technological determinism that places society on course to a certain direction. Mulholland explores the possible trajectory in his presentation – dissecting and offering reasons to intervene. It made me revisit ideas expressed in an article I once read titled: “Are we getting dumber as technology gets smarter?”
The talk was channelled more specifically to brands and the relationship that brands build with consumers, interfacing this relationship building against a backdrop of technology and erratic contemporary culture. What captured my attention about this philosophy of slowarness was just how relevant it was to the many stratums of contemporary culture, not just brands. I choose to both review some of the concepts presented by Mulholland, but at the same time also explore the greater effect of slowarness on contemporary culture.
Why it’s important?
Joe Kraus, partner at Google Ventures, recently suggested that we are creating a culture of distraction. In his presentation Kraus stated: “As a culture, we’ve got a crisis of attention. We’re becoming a distracted culture… one that is disconnected from one another.” http://joekraus.com/were-creating-a-culture-of-distraction. In addition, Kraus adds that we threaten the key ingredients behind creativity and insight by filling up all our “gap” time with stimulation, this is compounded by technology.
For the famed ‘boredom slayer’ to suggest something so simple as slowing down was quite profound, hinting at just how key it is to decelerate and allow things to move a gear or two down.
Why slow down? As mentioned before, our attention spans are relatively short fused with so many things vying for our attention. Technology has created this reflex in culture which has accelerated change and progress beyond ways we have known it. Professor Guttorm Floistad, a pioneer of the global slow movement states: “in order to master changes, we have to recover slowness, reflection and togetherness. There we will find renewal.” Slowing down seems to be the antithesis of progress; however it proves a necessary antithesis if we are to stay true to the true essence of messages, intention & communication.
Slow does not only imply a shift in speed, but also speaks to an ideology which promotes the preservation of traditional and local systems and also emphasises sustainability in the face of globalisation. This ideology is derived from the principles of the slow food movement which emerged in 1986 in Italy as opposition to fast food culture and fast life. (Further reading on slow food movement ).
The concept of slowarness, does not imply movement at a glacial pace, it simply means vying for retention as opposed to attention. This can only happen with an awareness to retain and in the context of contemporary culture that implies slowing down to be aware.
More specifically for those brands that care to listen; Mulholland calls for a movement away from an attention economy to a retention economy. He provided many examples of why this was important. A documented example was an anecdote of how we will remember some adverts, but not necessarily the brand behind them in certain instances. With the available platforms and channels; brands of the day will look to disseminate brand messages on multiple channels in quicker intervals as opposed to assessing channel capacity and creating strong narratives of their brands. What these brands foster is novelty, however novelty has never really been memorable.
The butterfly effect
Citizens of the new age are fast exhausting themselves; we are observing fatigue of a new kind. The butterfly effect of an approach such as slowarness is twofold. On a broader level, the effects are already seeping into mainstream consciousness with the continued emergence of slow movements globally.
Ultimately, this could mean happier citizens and people, is there anything more desirable as happier global peoples in general? This could affect all other tenets of culture and society. Through slowing down, we will be able to restore creativity. Joe Kraus suggests that creativity happens during gap time and by slowing down, we provide that gap time. He adds “creativity, insight, imagination and humaneness is an ability to pay attention to ANYTHING – our ideas, our line of thinking” Through slowing down, we will therefore pay attention to the process of creativity.
On the level of brands, we will see more attention to narrative branding as opposed to this frenzied hyped up activity we see on social media. Brands will go back to the formula of building strong narratives as opposed to timely channel distribution to resonate with consumers. Nandos is an example of a brand that has executed this strategy quite well; constructing a narrative that says; Nandos is a social commentating maverick, typically humorous with a tongue and cheek persona.
The Slow movement is gaining momentum, as more and more people recognise their discomfort at the fast pace and disconnected nature of their lives. It has transcended to many other sub-strands such as slow living, slow cities, slow media and slow money.
Slow media developed in the context of rapid acceleration of news distribution resulting in almost real-time digital media like Twitter. Since 2010, there have been slow media initiatives formed in the US & Europe such as En.Slow media
There also exist slow cities. The slow cities movement also known as Citta Slow emerged out of Italy by a number of small towns banding together to form an organization known as Citta Slow. Cities (even global) may apply to be part of these cities which stand up against the fast-lane and the homogenised world so often seen in other cities throughout the world. Slow cities have less traffic, less noise, fewer crowds.
What Mulholland was perhaps calling for, was slow branding which would translate to branding that places premium on process and quality as opposed to fast paced trigger responses that underlie narrative.
There even exists the World Institute of Slowness. The think tank of the slow revolution – promoting the slow philosophy and slow living. The institute also produces slow products such as Slow Beer, Slow Coffee and a service called Slow Consulting.
Slow Planet is the global home of the slow revolution. Italy is a country which has contributed to the development of many slow movements. The US remains a hot spot for slow initiatives.
By: Saint- Francis Tohlang
Saint-Francis is a cultural student of life; keenly perceptive and observant of shapers of culture and the post-modern climate. He is obsessed with contemporary culture and the human carnival. His research areas and interest are media markets and strategies, communications, youth culture, mobile culture and the online media ecology strongly rooted in an anthropological perspective. Tohlang has an MA in Media from UCT.