The Impossibility of Blinking Slowly

February 17, 2008


It’s next time again.

I have to say the Blog has been an unmitigated success. The contact with so many people from all over the world has been fantastic and, let’s talk about the quality of the ideas which were generated! Superb! Thank you for writing to me and thank you for reading and especially thank you for participating.

There is, however, one problem and I fear there is no solution to this one. The problem is TIME. For every person who posted a comment, I enjoyed two letters from enthusiastic people who wanted to but did not have the time. We are all so busy I completely understand. So, not being one to shy away from the challenge, I am choosing “Time and the lack thereof” as this month’s post.

I have become enthralled with this topic, and thanks to two of the smartest readers and posters here (one is an attorney and the other is a poet) I have the perfect setup for the debate; two provocative books and authors, Malcolm Gladwell’s BLINK and Milan Kundera’s SLOWNESS. Both are fascinating reads and frame the discussion perfectly.

BLINK has a premise so brilliant no one has actually taken the time to read the book. The idea is that you make up your mind about lots of things in the first two seconds and often you are exactly correct. So, with that great idea as the thesis – why bother to read the book? You don’t have the time so let me help. Here’s a good and indicative sample:

“How long did it take you, when you were in college to decide how good a teacher your professor was? A class? Two classes? A semester? A psychologist, Nalini Ambady, once gave students [for evaluation purposes] three ten-second videotapes of a teacher – with the sound turned off. The [ratings] were remarkably the same even when she showed the students just two seconds of videotape. A person watching a silent two-second video clip of a teacher he or she has never met will reach conclusions about how good that teacher is that are very similar to those of a student who has sat in the the teacher’s class for and entire semester. That’s the power of our adaptive unconscious.”

SLOWNESS, on the other hand is a genuine indulgence. Pay attention now. This is from the guy (Milan Kundera) who wrote the Unbearable Lightness of Being. His idea is really sexy. It is, of course, stated much more profoundly in the strange little book, but essentially the idea is that you ought to take your time when eating a hot fudge sundae or when savoring a Barbaresco, or for god’s sake when having sex. What a deliciously provocative concept. He says it a lot better than I ever could as he describes a sort of “dangerous liaison” of the eighteenth century:

“By slowing the course of their night by dividing it into different stages, each separate from the next, Madame de T. has succeeded in giving the small span of time accorded them the semblance of a marvelous little architecture, of a form. Imposing form on a period of time is what beauty demands, but so does memory. . . . There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting.”

Inspired by this book, I realize that filming is an act of slowness, of appreciation, of the capture and replay of time. It is a technological vehicle for selective memory.

Well, it seems to me, many issues in my work are summed up in the dynamic tension between these two profound ideas. I use the power of BLINK every day. Film is all about artifice, it is not reality, even non-fiction television and documentary is not about reality. It is an edited presentation of time and ideas. We create impressions through a visual language and seduce you into spending your time with a gorgeous soundtrack. Without a point of view, telegraphed by symbolic imagery, all of this meaningless. The power of BLINK is in every shot. If I show you a picture of Monica Vitti shot by Antonioni, you so easily see my point.


Monica Vitti in L’Avventura by Michaelangelo Antonioni

This movie still is a 1/24th of a second moment from a two-hour movie. Talk about BLINK! And, if you look at that picture you can sort of figure out what the film could be about and write your own movie in your head. One of the great pieces of art criticism I read about a favorite contemporary photographer, Nic Nicosia, said that his work is like a still from a movie. What is the back story? What is going to happen? Here is a shot of Nic’s work. Go ahead and knock yourself out with this mental movie:

Nic Nicosia Real Pictures #11

Real Pictures #11, 1988/92 by Nic Nicosia

You can look at a lot of art in this manner. I hope to do a program someday about how to better enjoy art with ideas like this. Paintings usually have a hidden narrative and great works (often quite quickly) inspire fascinating narratives and complex feelings. Another great example of Blink is the art of the movie trailer. (I know you don’t have time to actually go to the movie.) It is it’s own art form and the bottom line is, if you don’t like the trailer, you are never really going to like the movie. (Or are you? Please see the entire discussion framed in last month’s Blog.) The other really fun thing to do, if you don’t have time to watch the trailer, is to look at the movie poster. I love to do this – it is a total blast! The poster – if it is good – telegraphs everything you need to know. Lots of really smart people agonized for days to make that poster and to entice you to watch the film. Looking at all those decisions designed to make a split second impression which gives you a BLINK experience of the movie is a wonderful pastime, but it is arrogant to say you saw the movie if you really only glimpsed the poster. But, you are in a hurry, so let me quickly switch gears before I lose you.

Put in the clutch. Take a deep breath.

What about SLOWNESS? Ohhh my goddd what a great and profound idea is this! Ask Verdi about slowness. Ask your lover about slowness. What does it have to do with Film? Only everything. Where do I begin? I fight this all the time. I try to turn ideas into sound bites and have them retain some of their integrity and power in the process. In so many ways my films, and any film, are really concentrated distillations of time. They capture slowness and preserve it and present it at the speed of light. If you have ever been on a movie set you know it is all about “hurry up and wait.” The process takes forever. Somehow all that compressed time and work ends up on the screen. What I’m really trying to do now both in my professional and personal life is to slow down and savor the process as much as the finished product. This also applies to the very editing pace of a film. I’m working on a new program about the artist Christopher Pekoc with a brilliant art historian, Henry Adams. Henry helped Ken Burns make a film about the great painter Thomas Benson and Henry explained that “Ken Burns realized he could just hang on a still picture, providing he could infuse that picture with meaning.” How elegantly stated is that!

Let’s face it the speed of modern life is exhilarating. Kundera says “Our period is obsessed by the desire to forget, and it is to fulfill that desire that it gives over to the demon of speed.” It is exciting, however tragic, to live our lives so fast we don’t have any time left to just take a breath and see that sometimes what we care about the most is just zipping past, what my new friend the poet calls, “speeding windows.” But, SLOWNESS, dear reader, is where you can really amp up the quality of life. Any good lover knows that slow-fast-slow is sexy stuff. I think part of our capacity for happiness, is knowing how to put some adagio into an otherwise frenetic existence.

Given that I’ve run out of time with you here, what shall we do to solve this fundamental flaw with our Blog? Give me some examples of your favorite methods of capturing real enjoyment from your life with Slowness. Share your mental health secrets with the (virtual) room. Apply it to art or film or music. Your cogent, sincere and mind expanding insight on this topic is respectfully requested and deeply appreciated.

Until next time, I remain your,



  • Ann Gridley says:

    Was interested in “haptic”. This winter I learned of “haptonomie” (fr.) from our son. His wife was pregnant with their son, and the French government paid for her to go to an expert in “haptonomie”. Once there, the expert showed John how to touch his wife’s abdomen. Each time, the baby came towards where he had placed his hand. When the expert did it, the baby did not move to her. Initially skeptic, John was amazed at this repeatable experiment. I think this practice started in Holland and is popular in the UK as well. It doesn’t harm the unborn child and is supposed to strengthen the bond between father and child and make for a easier delivery and calmer baby. Oscar Timothée Crandon Gridley arrived on March 26th, 2008.

    Anne Gridley is a graduate of Radcliffe, a new grandmother and an accomplished nature photographer – TB

  • Tim Lachina says:

    I heard an interview with Michael Caine once and he talked about he trained himself not to Blink while on camera. Try it sometime. I tend to rely on a Buddhist approach to things—First thought, best thought.

    Tim Lachina is an outstanding Graphics Designer whose work can be seen here: – TB

  • Juan Bastos says:

    Dear Tom,

    As an artist, perhaps I have an overly sensitive selective vision when I go to a Museum…I walked into a room, and quickly I “scan” it…like having a bionic eye..sort of. Immediately I’ll find the ones that I am attracted to, and I ignore the rest. Mission accomplished. Next! No wasted time reading the titles of every painting in the room, and who did them. Every person has his or her own way to enjoy art, movies and so on…but as you mentioned, time is on our hands. Watching a favorite movie for example can be very entertaining…even if I have watched it before many times. However, I find myself using the wonderful fast forward function. For example when I watch “Sunset Boulevard”, I do agree with Norma Desmond and I only watch HER scenes . When “Joe” is helping Norma with her script he claims: “The public doesn’t want you in every scene”…well, he was wrong! (at least with me). We all have our guilty pleasures to make time to spend in a well loved novel, movie, or savoring SLOWLY a delicious bar of chocolate. Once one is familiar with something one likes, it’s easier to make time to the experience…It’s sometimes difficult to embrace the decision to give ourselves time to spend it in the unknown.

    Juan Bastos is a superbly talented portrait painter and lives in L.A. – TB

  • Lisa Schrier says:

    I did in fact read Blink when it first came out and found it fascinating and very true to my own experiences. I find, and have always found myself making appraisal’s of people within the very first instance of a meeting. Sometimes within a first glance. I can recall some instances where this appraisal was revised, but not many. I’m thinking the modern Human is strangling in the deliberate attempt to control and manipulate their environment through conscious thought and in fact may be better served to trust their adaptive unconscious. Could it be that if we attempt to Blink more slowly we will also be able to enjoy life more slowly.

    Lisa Schrier is an excellent Graphics Designer and Printing Specialist who really loves chocolate – TB

  • luca says:

    I am used to love and recognize almost any kind of landscape in a blink, but I am very slow, and lazy, with people. Don’t know why.

    In any case, I need slowness to return on things. If I write something, I leave it in a drawer for months. I am a photographer and now I work using digital technology… but most of the times it is too quick for me. I prefer to rediscover what I saw months before, opening my files long time after the shooting.

    Maybe it’s an attempt to jump back in the past, a trick to mix past and present.

    Photography is all about the passing of time. You are always quick to see, and you need the rest of your life to live again a single moment. I think in photography blinks and slowness are part of the same truth. That’s why I think pics are nostalgia’s greatest tool.

    Ciao Tom,


    Luca Campigotto is a brilliant fine art photographer specializing in moody, usually black & white, time-lapse cityscapes, taken at night. He lives in Milan but is thoroughly Venetian. – TB P.S. Luca’s website has just gone live, do yourself a favor and check it out: Luca Campigotto

  • reski says:

    The “possibility” of blinking slowly is proved by the fact that you write your blog only once a month … Bravissimo. Venice is for most people a place where they feel like a mussel without shell: Everything can seem too slow. Without cars, you walk everywhere on your own two feet, it makes your mind slow down.

    Petra Reski is a novelist and journalist living in Venice – TB

  • martha towns says:

    Here’s what I think; I never say, “I don’t have the time,” I say, “I didn’t take the time.” I think many people are so busy spinning their wheels they think they are accomplishing a lot. I believe it’s possible to do everything you WANT to do, even if it means getting up earlier! Time is a precious resource and the older one gets, the faster time goes and the less there is left of it. Carpe diem is not just a clever phrase; it’s the rule of everyone who wants to make the most of the day.

    Martha Towns is a journalist who writes, among other publications, for Currents – TB

  • Fred Collopy says:

    The example of student evaluations speaks to first impressions but not lasting ones. Students’ evaluations have little to do with learning. That is, they are not assessing “will I learn much from this person?” or even “Have I?” Indeed, reflect (slowly) on whom you have learned the most from. Many find it is not from the tallest, most attractive, most professional looking person with whom they have studied, but from an unlikely looking teacher (think Ghandi, Gehry, or Gerstner). So, yes we draw inferences in a blink. But should we rely upon them? Perhaps there are conditions under which it makes sense to, but I’ll bet there are many more under which it does not. Bankers used to (subconsciously) base decisions about who got a loan upon the height (and race) of the applicant. It turns out that a simple linear model does better than the expert banker. Such models also outperform experienced judges in deciding who will likely commit another crime and relationships experts in predicting which couples will remain married, and hundreds of other things on which most of us trust out instinctive judgments.

    My students complain that they don’t have time to think things through. Business demands that we move quickly; there is always pressure to do more, they explain. So, how is that we seldom have time to do something right, but manage to find time to do it over?

    Blink…slowly; think…slowly. Oh, and drink…slowly.

    Fred Collopy chairs the Information Systems Dept. at The Weatherhead School of Management and combines jazz performance with high tech visual color imaging – TB

  • Steve Ellis says:

    Interesting idea. I find in moments like taking in certain passages of great music, the happy din of a dinner party or making up a story on the fly that my grandsons find really funny, that I regret reflecting on how the “moment” is slipping away, because that instant of reflection takes away from being in the very moment I want to extend. So here’s what I think- just as in physics where the act of observing in and of itself changes the thing being observed, consciously slowing something down to enjoy it more can have the effect of taking away from the very thing we wanted to enjoy. Like when when somebody ends a truly fun time by saying ‘Isn’t this fun?”. But this gets into weird issues of the nature of time and consciousness, both of which I hope you masterfully tee up for this group.
    On the going fast part, couldn’t agree more. Folks with good “blink” instincts do well in our culture where in most circumstances it’s not as important to have the right answer as it is it to have the first answer. Quickness of the mark gets rewarded in Jeopardy and most business meetings.
    Nicosia photo is possibly the best ever.

    Steve Ellis is someone you never want to play Jeopardy against and is a partner at the law firm of Tucker Ellis & West

  • Elizabeth says:

    Just a quick blink of a thought…a few days ago I saw a 3-D imaging device that allows the viewer to put on a liquid crystal pair of glasses and view a screen that is synchronized with the glasses to “blink” 93 times a minute. You don’t even know you are seing a blink it is so fast but the effect is to project something that is 2-D in its nature (MRIs, Bone Scans, CT Sdans or just an photograph image) into 3-D format. Think for a minute about what this means…just a blink…

    Elizabeth Rhodes is the Director of the Fashion School at Kent State University – TB

  • Paulette Faulkner says:

    My initial response to “The Impossibility of Blinking Slowly” is Yes, I’m guilty of being influenced by first impressions- be it a person or a place. I know in a ‘blink’ if I am easy or not but it feels like a gut or animal instinct and is difficult to shift once it’s there. I’ve also, I’m ashamed to say, instead of visiting an exhibition which I think I should see but don’t want to, visited the bookshop and looked at the exhibition book. On the other hand I always find time to see something I really want to see – slowly. The famous saying “if you want something done, ask a busy person” always applies. Regarding SLOWNESS: My trick is to set the alarm half an hour earlier than I need and go back to bed with a cup of tea for half an hour’s contemplation every morning. Of course, there are other tricks ………

    Paulette Faulkner lives in Poole, U.K. and, like many of us, is in love with the city of Venice. – TB

  • John Ziegler says:

    OK, Mr. Tommaso, here’s a quick and PI response. I actually read Blink (ok, part of it), and I think that I get it. In fact, Talking Heads said something like this in ‘Seen and Not Seen’

    “…This is why first impressions are often correct…’

    My brother is offended by my stereotyping individuals (or at least in predicting a person’s nationality, sex, etc., by theeir manner of driving, for example). I’ve always maintained that this is simply a way to assimilate quickly a lot of information in order to make sense out of a situation. Basically it’s a survival instinct. So I argue that sterotyping isn’t always such a bad thing. I think that today we are being taught, in the name of political correctness, to abandon our survival instincts, to ‘blink slowly,’ if you will.

    As far as S L O W N E S S goes, try reading Mervyn Peake…

    All my life I’ve been trying to get As. The one place where I should have been trying to get a B (or at least an A-) is in my personality type. Slowing down a bit might just be what the teacher ordered. But I still can’t get past Gormenghast.

    John Ziegler is the Construction Project Manager for the recently completed Whitman College Complex at Princeton University. You will get to see him as a featured interviewee in Extreme Visions. (See In Production on the Telos Website)

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