I have recently attended the Distance Lab Open Studio Event “Slow Technology”, held in the heart of the Scottish Highlands- Forres-, very close to the community of Findhorn. As explained by the Distance Lab Research Director, Stefan Agamanolis, the aim of the organization is twofold: to undertake academic research as it is done by conventional universities, but also identifying and developing projects that materialize that research in order to support local communities. The leitmotiv of the research is “distance”- as the organization’s name suggests-, and how the conception of “distance” can be explored and overcome from different perspectives: education, human relationships, environment, etc.
The concept of “slow technology” was introduced by the main speaker, Glorianna Davenport, a documentary filmmaker and lecturer at MIT Media Lab (Boston, Usa). Slow technology is intrinsically related to the Slow Movement. As described by Carl Honoré in his book “In praised of Slow” (2004), in the last decades, westerns societies seem to be dominated by speed. This one occupies a predominant position in our hierarchy of culturally accepted values: we need to “work fast”, we “catch up things” with our friends, relatives or colleagues, we “buy on line”, we “grab something to eat” and systematically devourer junk food so that we don´t waste any single second of our working or leisure hours in unproductive activities; we want to “travel faster”, we want to “have more time”, we want to “live more experiences”. We are societies “on the go”. Fast is the attribute that dominates our lives, and speed and time constitute therefore the Cartesian plane in which we measure all kind of human experiences, both sensorial and metaphysical. We measure the quality of our life experiences –work, love, sex, family or faith-, by the time we dedicate to them.
This is the actual framework in which modern technology has been born: a technology whose design and purpose has been shaped by that restlessness. We have fast technology for a fast world: a technology based on quantity, and whose raison d’être is to make things happen faster. Fast technology is global, invasive, dehumanised and sometimes elitist, since it can be used for displaying our social status. Very often it does not encourage reflection, but, on the contrary, it is perceived as alienating since it offers no choices to its users. This is the conception of technology that has shaped our mobile phones, plasma video screens or laptop computers.
Slow technology has appeared as a reaction to the cultural and social values that gave birth to fast technology. Slow technology serves to a slow world, since it has born in the scope of the “Slow Movement”. As stated by Glorianne in her talk, the “Slow Movement empathizes the need to make stronger connections and build deeper relationships between the self and the environment, in which the self find itself”. The slow movement originally started in Italy, with the protests that took place with the opening of the first MacDonald in Roma. The protests against the fast food imported from the USA shaped into the called “Slow Food Movement”, founded by the Italian Carlo Petrini. The concept transcended soon the sphere of food to pervade every aspect of human existence: Slow Travel, Slow Shopping, Slow Design… A whole movement reclaiming “slowness.
As defined by Carl Honoré in his website, the slow movement is “It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. (…) Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.”
Slow technology was first defined in the book “Slow technology: Design for reflection” (1992) from the Swedish Lar Hallars and Johan Redtrom. Slow technology can be defined as a design philosophy for a technology aimed at reflection and moments of mental rests rather than performance efficiency. Slow technology aims to measure the degree of satisfaccion/dissatisfaction of human experiences by other parameters than the time spent in these experiences. Slow technology is interested in quality, not in quantity, is –or idealistically tries to be- people-driven, not profit-driven. Likewise, it is perceived as non-invasive, since it offers choices to its users and promotes reflection. Slow technology is local since it makes possible specific project in support of local communities.
The best example of how slow technology looks like are the projects developed by the researchers at Distance Lab, whose expertise cover very diverse disciplines, from mechanical engineering to textile design. Among the team of researchers, the Japanese artist and designer Tomoko Hayashi who explores in her work the impact of physical distance in human relationships. Tomoko is the intellectual creator of “Mutsugoto”, “an intimate communication device intended for a bedroom environment. [That] allows distant partners to communicate through the language of touch.
Examples of the projects undertaken by Distance Lab can be found in their website
Fast or slow, our current world cannot survey without technology and we cannot put it away from our lives. However, how we design, shape and build technology…, this is only up to us.