26 April 2005

There's food in the pot and pot in the email

'Info-mania' dents IQ more than marijuana
The relentless influx of emails, cellphone calls and instant messages received by modern workers can reduce their IQ by more than smoking marijuana, suggests UK research.

Far from boosting productivity, the constant flow of messages and information can seriously reduce a person's ability to focus on tasks, the study of office workers found.

Eighty volunteers were asked to carry out problem solving tasks, firstly in a quiet environment and then while being bombarded with new emails and phone calls. Although they were told not to respond to any messages, researchers found that their attention was significantly disturbed.

Alarmingly, the average IQ was reduced by 10 points - double the amount seen in studies involving cannabis users. But not everyone was affected by to the same extent - men were twice as distracted as women.

'If left unchecked, 'info-mania' will damage a worker's performance by reducing their mental sharpness,' says Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist at the University of London, UK, who carried out the study, sponsored by Hewlett-Packard. 'This is a very real and widespread phenomenon.'

Slow Food Manifesto
Our century, which began and has developed under the insignia of industrial civilization, first invented the machine and then took it as its life model.

Slow Food
Long before demonstrators and police battled it out on the streets of Genoa during the G-8 summit, a potentially more influential attempt to guide the direction of globalization was slowly evolving about two hours' drive away in the countryside of the neighboring region of Piedmont in the foothills of the Italian Alps. In the small market town of Bra, in an area known for its red wines and white truffles, is the headquarters of a movement called Slow Food, dedicated to preserving and supporting traditional ways of growing, producing and preparing food. If the French attitude toward globalization is symbolized by farm activist José Bové driving a tractor into a McDonald's, Italy's subtler and more peaceful attitude is embodied in this quirky and intelligent movement, which has taken up the defense of the purple asparagus of Albenga, the black celery of Trevi, the Vesuvian apricot, the long-tailed sheep of Laticauda, a succulent Sienese pig renowned in the courts of medieval Tuscany and a host of endangered handmade cheeses and salamis known now only to a handful of old farmers.

Founded in 1986, in direct response to the opening of a McDonald's restaurant in Rome's famous Piazza di Spagna, the Slow Food Manifesto declares that:

A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life.

In its first years Slow Food, which has adopted the snail as its official symbol, was heavily concentrated on food and wine, and produced what is considered to be Italy's best guides to wine, restaurants and food stores. But in the mid-1990s Slow Food developed a new political dimension, called eco-gastronomy. "We want to extend the kind of attention that environmentalism has dedicated to the panda and the tiger to domesticated plants and animals," says Carlo Petrini, the movement's founder, a tall, handsome bearded man of 54. "A hundred years ago, people ate between one hundred and a hundred and twenty different species of food. Now our diet is made up of at most ten or twelve species."

Worrying about the fate of the Paduan hen might have seemed a quixotic and elitist concern a few years ago, but with the lingering panic over mad cow disease, the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease, and the debate over genetically modified food, Slow Food--with its emphasis on natural, organic methods--has suddenly acquired a political importance and popularity that has surprised even its own leaders. Since 1995, when it began to defend endangered foods, the organization has grown from 20,000 to 65,000 members in forty-two countries. To press its political concerns, Slow Food has recently opened offices in Brussels, where it lobbies the European Union on agriculture and trade policy, as well as in New York, where it organizes trade fairs and tries to find markets for traditional food producers.

No more dog-eat-dog
The depoliticisation of work must be the most profound and enduring legacy of Thatcherism. She handed business the "right to manage", unaccountable to all but its shareholders. The strategy was to pit everyone against everyone else: competition between companies but also within companies, within departments, within teams. The message was clear: unless you personally and your company are competitive, you are history. Competition was the spur to productivity.

Parts of this legacy simply haven't worked. Our productivity is notoriously poor compared to that in Germany or Scandanavia, countries where (and it may be more than coincidence) the quality of working life has always been high on the political agenda, and governments - in alliance with employers and trade unions - have sponsored experimentation in work organisation and helped spread best practice. Other parts of the Thatcherite legacy were never more than myth and urgently need debunking, such as performance-related pay, which the research shows is based on a false premise - you can't measure an individual's output because it is always dependent on colleagues - and actually damages motivation.

Can you reasonably blog the virtues of the slow life?

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