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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 July, 2005, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Time to switch off and slow down
By Kevin Anderson
BBC News website

Delegates at TEDGlobal 2005
The audience at the conference bristled with hi-tech gadgets
At a hi-tech conference bristling with bloggers constantly checking messages on Blackberries, smartphones, laptops and handheld computers, it is odd to hear a speaker suggest an e-mail free day.

But journalist Carl Honoré told attendees of the TED conference in Oxford they should unplug and slow down in a world that was stuck in fast- forward.

And for a wired world accustomed to having nearly unlimited information and the boundless choices of online shopping, it seems almost heretical to suggest that the infinite possibilities of the modern world leave us less satisfied instead of more.

But author Barry Schwartz told the conference that it was better when we had only a few choices of salad dressing instead of the 175 at his local supermarket.

These were just some of the suggestions to the audience at TED in their search for the good life.

TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) brings together experts in design, technology, and entertainment to share their ideas about our futures.

'Roadrunner culture'

We live in a world where instant gratification is not fast enough, in a world of not only speed dating, but even of speed yoga, said Mr Honoré.

The author of In Praise of Slowness decided to decelerate after he found himself speed reading bedtime stories to his son.

He even found himself excited when he read in the newspaper a story about one-minute bedtime stories.

Barry Schwartz, BBC
Some choice is better than none, but more choices don't make things better
Barry Schwartz
But he caught himself: "Has it really come to this that I'm ready to fob off my son with a sound bite at the end of the day?"

People point to urbanisation, consumerism and globalisation as the cause of this "roadrunner culture", he said, but it is more fundamental.

"In our society, time is a scarce resource," he said. "We turn everything in race with the finish line but we never reach that finish line."

But around the world, there is a backlash against this culture, such as the slow food and slow city movement in Italy.

Across the world, people are slowing down, and they are finding that they "eat better, make love better, exercise better, work better".

And Mr Honoré told a crowd flush with technology that they needed to rediscover the off button.

Technology was supposed to make us more efficient, he explained. But our lives are often so driven by interruptions that a recent report on "info-mania" found that the flood of e-mails was such a distraction that it cut workers IQ by 10 points.

One department at software firm Veritas has declared Friday e-mail free, and it found that the day has become its most productive.

More choice is less satisfying

Continuing the theme that less is more, author and scholar Barry Schwartz challenged the orthodoxy that to maximise freedom and welfare we should maximise choice.

Confectionery in supermarket, BBC
Too much choice can be bewildering
It is such a deeply embedded assumption that no one questions it, said Mr Schwartz, who explored the idea in his book, The Paradox of Choice.

He pointed to his local supermarket where he has a choice of 175 salad dressings. 40 toothpastes, 75 ice teas, 230 soups and 285 varieties of cookies.

Choice is good, he said, but in modern, affluent societies most people are confronted with a bewildering array of choices that leads to paralysis.

He said that his students sometimes become stuck in low-wage jobs because they fear making the wrong choice of career.

Some professors at liberal arts colleges now joke that they "take students who would have been stuck working at McDonalds and makes them people who are stuck working at Starbucks".

With so many options confronting us about almost every decision, there is a greater chance that we will regret the decision we do make.

The myriad choices raise our expectations and create the anticipation of perfection.

Regret after making the wrong decision or what is perceived as the wrong decision leads to self-blame, depression and, in extreme cases, suicide, he said.

We are bad at realising the downside of choice.

"Some choice is better than none, but more choices don't make things better," he argued.

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