Short Guide to Slow Tech

How slow tech can help us make room for nature and creativity during lockdown.

Text — Juliette Leblanc

It used to be that when we found ourselves at a creative or emotional impasse, we could try to surmount it by following a familiar formula — changing our routine or learning something new, for example. But that was before: before a pandemic overturned every aspect of modern life, before a growing awareness about racial inequalities shook up our comfortable certainties, and before we found ourselves switching between Zoom work sessions, FaceTime cocktail hours, and Netflix evenings.

How do we remain stimulated? How do we stay positive, months after the start of a pandemic that shows no sign of letting up? Or, more realistically, how do we embrace the impossibility of maintaining a consistent level of motivation and productivity as we reluctantly resign ourselves to this “new normal”?

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According to some psychologists, the stress we are currently under is comparable to what we might experience after losing a loved one (not to mention some of you may even have lost love ones in addition to everything else). The world has changed — we know it’s temporary, but that’s not how it feels. The disturbance of our normal, the fear of economic repercussions, the loss of our sense of safety and our social connections: all of this shakes us up and brings about a collective grief. Our confined daily lives and the constant presence of technology have the potential to become a recipe for real anguish, as lockdown starts to feel like Groundhog Day.

Montréal’s regional public health director has found that the social ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic particularly affect young adults in the city. The organization recently published a study showing that 62 per cent of Montréal residents aged 30 to 49 say they’ve experienced a dramatic reorganization of their work lives since the pandemic began; 36 per cent of people in this age group say the situation has had a considerable effect on their mental health and that of their peers.

Have you heard of slow tech? Practitioners include it in the wider cultural movement of slow living, in the spirit of mindful awareness. The ultimate goal: to find well-being, to lead a more satisfying life, and to reduce our environmental footprint.

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One of the most popular aspects of this return to slowness is “slow food,” which promotes more sensitive, thoughtful consumption and preparation of the things we eat. And just as food can be produced and consumed in unhealthy ways, addictive technologies can have consequences for our health.

Slow tech is above all a philosophy that invites us to define the place that technology occupies in our lives. The aim is not to reject technological advances, but rather to identify the appropriate tools for our needs and those of society. As Jonathan Durand Folco wrote in our Green Screen issue, “The notion of resonance could also be integrated into the design of new technologies themselves, which need to become more human and convivial.”

Green Screen

Making a life with nature and new technologies

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A few ideas for integrating slow tech
into your time in lockdown

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We need to stop pretending our day-to-day is normal. Trying to simply adapt to a “new normal” while maintaining pre-pandemic routines or productivity, we can quickly worsen feelings of stress and anxiety. Everything has changed! Working increasingly online, eyes riveted endlessly to our screens, isn’t it about time for us to establish new approaches to technology?

In this spirit:

1. Set up your space so you can work comfortably.
Maybe stop using the kitchen table as a “temporary” desk. Inspire yourself with biophilic design, and surround yourself with plants.

Photo: Brina Blum

2. Revisit your digital hygiene.

  • Install apps on each of your devices to manage screen time. Think about designating device-free spaces in your home to mark out online and offline time.
  • Be selective with your digital content. Find an hour in your day to sort through your newsletters and apps. And why not use the opportunity to weed out any accounts from your social media feeds that don’t make you feel good? Watching images of nature onscreen has been shown to have beneficial effects on our health: stress reduction and lowered heart rate, in particular. A nature documentary or tutorial in star identification is much better for the brain (and for morale) than the endless scroll of social media.
  • Trade in high tech for low tech. Replace your phone alarm with a real alarm clock. Consult a recipe book rather than a cooking blog to plan supper. Stick your head outside before checking a weather app. Subscribe to a print newspaper or magazine. The list of possibilities is long, proving that there are many ways to make a little space in our lives for good old analog tools (including our intuitions and our memories).
Photo: Nathan Riley

3. Get outside every day!
Walking in green (or snowy) spaces has been shown to lower the levels of salivary cortisol — an index of stress. This is due, among other things, to a molecule produced by trees: phytoncide.

4. Maintain your social network.
Studies have proven that having the support of friends and family members increases our capacity to get through periods of trauma. Dr. Danielle Hairston, psychiatrist and adjunct professor at the Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C., said in a recent interview with the New York Times that counting on this kind of network can help us develop adaptation strategies to face environmental stress. And if you start to get tired of online social networks and Zoom calls, why not pick up the telephone, or organize a balcony visit or a healthy walk with friends and family?

5. Modify your expectations of yourself.
The story our news feeds will tell us is that everyone has started a new diet, a new adventure, a new company, or a new sport these past months. But what about those of us who stopped exercising online or feeding their sourdough every day several weeks ago? Choose ONE lockdown project (not one per day). Want to finally get to reading that literary classic collecting dust behind your modem? Make it to the last page before you start training for a half-marathon, making homemade brioche, or embroidering a tapestry.

A little exercise in creativity
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Human beings often feel more creative when we’re alone — away from constant overstimulation. But inspiration and the desire to be creative also arise from interactions with our peers. Online entertainment doesn’t bring out our imaginative capacity as much as nature, trips to the museum, a good book, or the company of inspiring people. And just the act of disconnecting from the internet and our devices brings its own sense of satisfaction, which surely disposes us to be creative. (And, of course, lockdown means finding creative ways to adapt a few of those options as well.)

The BESIDE team proposes three steps (or levels, if you prefer) for disconnecting.

1. Once a day, sit still, doing nothing, for five minutes.
Be quiet; listen to the sounds around you and to your breath. Notice the light, the textures and colours. You can do this exercise anywhere: in a park, in nature, in the living room, on the balcony in the fresh air. Master boredom and daydreaming. Be fully present.

2. Set aside blocks of time devoted to movement in your routine.
For example: three times a week, plan an hour for walking or biking, with or without a specific destination. In 2014 a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that people who walk every day have more creative thoughts than those who don’t.

3. Choose an action verb (to sew, to build, to cook).
For a month, plan one day per week in which you dedicate yourself entirely to the application of this verb: repaint a room, build a table, repot your plants, and so on. You’ll realize that it’s easy to get your dose of dopamine when you take time away from screens.

Photo: Kelly Sikkema

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