In an age of fast information, it’s time to embrace ‘slow thinking’
You've heard of "slow food"—the push away from overly processed, unhealthy eating, toward food that's locally grown, thoughtfully prepared, and nutritious? Now, get ready for "slow thinking."
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a virtual panel discussion hosted by The Economist, where we discussed the changing ways in which we communicate with one another, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated those changes. What struck me most was a common theme among all who participated: People are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information being thrust their way at any given moment.
Think of our manic news cycle, the flood of social media content, a constant bombardment of emails, messages, and calendar appointments—all in the midst of a global public health crisis that's causing millions of us to work remotely for the foreseeable future. Not to mention that many of us doing so with the added responsibility of managing a busy schedule of remote lessons and schoolwork for our children.
It's enough to make anyone feel they've lost control, and many have. (Remember this mom's rant that went viral in March, expressing what so many were feeling at the time.) That's why I believe we need—and will see in the years to come—a serious, deliberate effort to edit down the amount of information to which we subject ourselves, in order to focus on higher-quality content and to calm the pace at which we process it.
Over the past few years, the Marie Kondo effect has taken hold and led to a massive de-cluttering trend. We have seen that expand to de-friending and paring down possessions, relationships, and commitments on our time. In other words, we have been craving ways to simplify our lives for some time, and perhaps this era—which has triggered what some are calling the "great reset"—will help us slow down and reevaluate what's important.
Never has there been a greater need for each of us to choose what is important, filter out what isn't, make educated choices as to which sources are credible (or not), and to graze at our own pace on the information that makes its way to us via smart devices, computers, and televisions, rather than attempting to deal with it all at once.
Much as a newspaper or magazine editor is tasked with ensuring that only factual information and illuminating editorial content make it to their audience, each of us is now faced with a growing responsibility not only for our own opinions, but for selecting the raw material from which we form those views and taking the time to think about it.
While this seems like a tall order, there are some simple steps we can take to get started. We can unsubscribe from unneeded or duplicative news alerts, newsletters, or marketing emails. We can edit down the news and commentary sources, brands, and people we follow on social media platforms and set limits for ourselves on how much time we spend scanning Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or other feeds.
We can also set clear boundaries when it comes to responding to work emails during the evenings or on weekends and leave our phones in another room at night to allow ourselves a rest from the world. (I admit that this one is a toughie for me—working globally means that sometimes my middle-of-the-night is prime workday for someone else.) When we do use our devices to read a book or magazine, we can set it to do-not-disturb mode so we can focus without interruptions.
Managing a world of ever-faster information through small changes may sound impossible, but — I promise — it isn't. Few embraced the values of the "slow food" movement at first, but today its basic tenets are mainstream. Even as information sources continue to proliferate, I believe "slow thinking" will have a similar trajectory, because it is the best way we have to seize back control over an aspect that is vital for a better and happier life. And — given the year we've had — don't we all deserve that?
Marian Salzman is senior vice president, global communications at Philip Morris International. She has been named one of the world’s top five trendspotters and is among the world’s most-awarded public relations executives. She continues to consider Two Bird Ranch on the East Side her home and was chair of Tucson Values Teachers for two years, from 2014-2016.