When people ask me why I took a three-month sabbatical from my life in 2015 to walk the Camino de Santiago, I try to describe the sense of burnout and mental exhaustion I was feeling. Postmodern adulting had burned me to a crisp, destroyed my attention span, and left me far too attached to my screens. I needed to get away and experience something real, something with staying power, and the Way of Saint James checked all of my boxes. You don’t need a smart phone on a trail that’s 900 years old, I discovered, and you can’t spend to much time thinking about what to wear when you only have one change of clothes.
Well, it turns out there’s a name for what I was searching for – consumer deceleration – and I’m not alone in my need for it.
A couple of weeks ago, I came across an article on Phys.org called “Christmas is Hectic, but Slowing Things Down Might Be About to Become the New Status Symbol.”
In it, author Royal Holloway summarizes research published in the Journal of Consumer Research that says “Increasing numbers of people are searching for ways to slow down their fast paced consumer lives by turning to slower forms of consumption, such as using limited holiday time to walk ancient pilgrimage routes.”
Well, that explains, the exploding number of people coming from around the world, and especially the United States, to journey to Santiago.
The authors of the study found that when a person commits to something like the Camino, they have a “perception of slowing down time by altering, adopting or avoiding certain forms of consumption.” Specifically, their deceleration includes physical movement (walking instead of taking motorized transportation), technology (limiting electronic communication and focusing on face-to-face interactions), and “episodic” (limiting actions to only a few activities a day, like walking and eating).
The article concludes by saying that:
“We suggest that deceleration is becoming a new status symbol. People are overworked and time-poor, and only a fortunate few can afford to escape to oases of deceleration, making them the status symbols of tomorrow.”
I’m not sure what the author means by “fortunate few” here, when my budget for the Camino was far lower (even factoring in the airfare) on a day-by-day basis than most vacations I’ve taken here in the United States. But okay, there’s a lot here to consider, and even more in the original report. In the end, it all comes down to what anyone who’s walked part of the Camino de Santiago knows:
Slowing down to a human pace, engaging with people from around the world, and becoming part of a history much bigger than yourself will change your life.