Speed is the motor of consumer capitalism. The faster we consume, the more we consume. For the neoclassical economists who measure quality of life by the flow of dollars alone, a frenzied and confused consumer – assaulted by constant advertisements and prone to impulse purchases – is the ideal human being. But the ecological catastrophe brought on by this frenetic consumption suggests that the only viable way forward may be moving at a snail's pace.
By now most of us are familiar with the "slow movement," which, borne in protest against the McDonaldization of Italy, proposes that slowness is a virtue. Although the slow movement is still largely synonymous with food, it is not limited to gastronomy alone. The Tobin tax, for example, places a levy on foreign currency exchanges in an effort to slow down global capitalism. Workplace slow downs use active strikes to counter the dehumanizing speed of industrialization without jeopardizing peoples' jobs. Another arena of anti-speed activism is slow travel.
On a gut level, most of us probably feel that the pace of modern life is too fast. The Internet connects us with the whole word in milliseconds. And when we need to be somewhere physically, we hop on a nonstop flight traveling at speeds exceeding 500 miles per hour. It takes a mere six hours to travel from New York to San Francisco, the same amount of time it takes an ox to walk twelve miles. We have seemingly done away with the limitations of distance. But all this speed has significant environmental and cultural consequences. The death of distance has introduced the decline of difference – the homogenization of the world and the disposable mindset.
We must embrace an alternative vision to a world made tiny by the speed of travel. Traveling from New York to San Francisco should not take six hours, but six days. In this recession-afflicted economy, locality is starting to matter again. "Staycations" – local bicycle tours, kayak vacations, camping – are a great travel option with a reduced carbon impact. It may no longer be possible to avoid travel altogether, but perhaps it's time to rethink the speed of consumption and embrace slowness and the indirect path.
Micah White is a Contributing Editor at Adbusters and an independent activist. He is writing a book on the future of activism. www.micahmwhite.com or micah (at) adbusters.org