The Return to Slow in a Postmodern World
Updated: Mar 20
I distinctly remember sitting at a cafe one afternoon in Portland, Oregon a couple of years ago and having the realization that my preferred mode of being is slow. I also recall feeling slightly uncomfortable to admit this (even if it was only quietly to myself). Maybe the discomfort comes from a fear of being left behind—modern society encourages machine-like production, work for the sake of work. But, I’m a human who likes to take my time to ingest, digest, and assimilate my surroundings, conversations, books, and ideas. Simmer my thoughts, and then proceed. This seems almost contentious in our modern world given the (somewhat unspoken) expectations to keep up.
Yet, a shift is beginning to take place. We are starting to understand how our industrialized, hurried mindsets, and by extension our actions, are eroding our natural landscapes, thereby, threatening our water resources, the air we breathe, and the land on which we construct our lives, infrastructures, and communities. An out of sight, out of mind mindset will not solve our climate crisis. With this understanding, we, at UpJaunt, are making efforts to thread a sustainability focus through the shared ethos of our work.
photo by Clay Banks
How do we move forward?
Japan is one country where change is being systematically, and actively, addressed. The island country is currently experiencing a steady decline in population — given that national birth rates are slowing, while the aging population continues to grow. Society 5.0, a vision-forward plan devised by the Japanese government, is “a super-smart society” with the mission to tackle some of the countries more imminent problems via technology, innovation, and infrastructure changes, especially with regard to urban life.
But, still, others are choosing to venture outside city life in search of new ways of living and being. The shift is cross-generational with both older and younger generations beginning to relocate and build lives in formerly abandoned rural towns. Yoko Era and her husband are part of this growing community trading urban life for a more rustic mode of living. Younger generations are also seeing the benefits of bucolic life, giving up stressful, urban lifestyles for a slower life amongst nature.
With this shift, rural tourism is seeing a boost; and, as with any shift, change comes with its challenges. As an expert in the field of tourism and rural economics, Yasuo Ohe has documented and written about many of the collective concerns of those connected with the industry. Ohe is a supporter of soft tourism, a term coined roughly thirty years ago to differentiate between tourism that is harmful, or exploitative — otherwise known as hard tourism — versus tourism that is more sustainable for the communities and environments in which it takes place, i.e. soft. Moreover, soft tourism “employs local people, respects the local way of life, and is in harmony with local traditions.”
This hard and soft continuum is also applied to various levels of ecotourism. In an article titled “Hard and Soft Tourism” published in The SAGE International Encyclopedia of Travel and Tourism, Carolin Lusby says that “hard ecotourists have a strong commitment to the environment, which shows itself in longer trips that are closer to nature.” This concept of hard ecotourism is exactly what Nico Hadjicostis delves into in his book Destination Earth: A New Philosophy of Travel by a World-Traveler.
In Destination Earth, Hadjicostis talks about ‘armchair travel’ and the fear of the unknown. He suggests that many of us are placated by our screens and tricked into thinking that our televisions, laptops, and phones, are viable substitutes for actual travel and exploration. According to Hadjicostis, “peeking through a 40-inch screen is how most people learn about our planet but the information they gain is trivial and flat.” In reading this, the image of the monolith from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey came immediately to mind.
What is the monolith in the film? Is it a metaphoric representation of our screens? Are screens simply tools, and, like all tools, decidedly used either for good or for evil?
I suspect that our screens (while opening us to the world at large in remarkable ways) have removed us from the three-dimensional world in which we live. I agree with Hadjicostis when he writes in Destination Earth that “there is no substitute for studying an actual three-dimensional globe in order to understand, and more importantly feel, the size of the Earth and the interrelationship of its landmasses and oceans.” He also suggests that real travel is slow travel. When we stay in a specific region for weeks at a time, we allow ourselves the chance to get to know the locals, to visit the farmers’ markets, to possibly cook our own meals and savor the nuance of people and place.
photo by Alejandro Duarte
When we rush through travel, or life, keeping to rigid itineraries and schedules, we miss something. A something that can only be experienced when we are paying attention. And when we pay attention, we discover things about ourselves, about others, about our environments. Things have time to seep in. I’m in no way suggesting that we return to a time pre-screen, but I do think there is a way to move through our three-dimensional world both consciously and spontaneously, allowing time and space for the unexpected.
Just as Kubrick’s 2001 wasn’t meant to be understood on first viewing, we often don’t fully comprehend our experiences as they are happening. We need time to digest.