We are living in an age of acceleration. The constantly increasing rate of technological advancement and social change is speeding up the pace of business and life itself, leaving most of us feeling time-poor. How are people coping? Increasingly, by seeking out opportunities to slow down. They can do so in three key dimensions: embodied deceleration, which is the physical slowing down of the body; technological deceleration, which is not giving up technology, but carefully controlling its use and instead focusing on face-to-face communication; and episodic deceleration, which is engaging in only a few activities per day — in our data, walking, eating, sleeping — and, crucially, reducing the amount of consumption choices to be made. Companies should begin to offer more services and experiences that allow people to achieve one or more of these goals.
We are living in an age of acceleration. All manner of goods can be ordered online and delivered within hours. The next date is a swipe away. Even exercise and meditation are now accessed via apps and completed in minutes. This constantly increasing rate of technological advancement and social change is speeding up the pace of business and life itself, leaving most of us feeling time-poor.
How are people coping? Increasingly, by seeking out opportunities to slow down. Witness the rising popularity of yoga and wellness retreats (one of fastest growing sectors of the tourism industry), the slow food movement, and the spreading popularity of digital detoxes: time away from tech devices. The former director of BBC News recently launched Tortoise Media, which defines itself as slow news and offers the tagline “slow down, wise up.” And, in South Korea, a decidedly fast-paced, high-tech society, vacations in which burnt out workers spend time in a jail cell, treated like a prisoner, so that they can disconnect and decelerate, have become popular in the past year. This desire to decelerate is a major trend with implications for companies, organizations and society.
To explore why and how people can achieve deceleration, we studied another extreme version of it: we immersed ourselves with people walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, an ancient pilgrimage route that has been drawing ever larger crowds, of varied ages, religious backgrounds and countries of origin, in the past two decades. Through this research, we identified three key dimensions to slowing down:
- Embodied deceleration, which is the physical slowing down of the body. In our research, this was achieved via walking on a daily basis rather than using faster forms of transportation.
- Technological deceleration, which is not giving up technology, but carefully controlling its use and instead focusing on face-to-face communication. This often stems from the surroundings not allowing for constant connection rather than from self-control. In our study, some respondents left their work phones at home, or they connected to Wi-Fi only in the evenings.
- Episodic deceleration, which is engaging in only a few activities per day — in our data, walking, eating, sleeping — and, crucially, reducing the amount of consumption choices to be made.
In general, all three dimensions speak to ideas such as simplicity, de-materialization, and authenticity.
How do these findings translate into business insights? Companies are beginning to provide spaces where consumers can decelerate on all three dimensions. In the retail sector, for example, “slow shopping” the creation of calming, relaxed, private yet interactive experiences that encourage customers to stay (and spend) — has become a long-awaited response to e-commerce and high-tech self-checkouts. As reported here, Origins, a skin-care and make-up brand, redesigned its stores to provide more places for shoppers to sit down, encouraging embodied deceleration. Similarly, in 2013, Selfridges, the high-end British department store, built a quiet room where consumers can relax and engage in both embodied and technological deceleration.
In the tourism sector, while embodied and episodic deceleration has long been encouraged as part of luxury hotels’ wellness focus, we are beginning to see the absence of Wi-Fi marketed as an amenity, for example at Villa Stephanie in Baden-Baden, so guests aren’t posting experiences on Instagram but rather focusing on their holiday.
In fashion, brands such as Patagonia encourage customers toward investment purchases: a few, key sustainable clothing and accessory items kept over longer periods of time, reflecting an emphasis on authenticity and de-materialization via episodic deceleration.
We see the facilitation of deceleration — especially that which factors in all three dimensions — as beneficial for individual well-being, the environment and businesses alike. And we expect interest in such experiences to rise exponentially in coming years. Recognizing our existential need to occasionally slow down can be the basis for winning consumer strategies.