The Art of Savoring

I spent this weekend working with the Director’s Fellows at the MIT Media Lab. It’s an amazingly diverse group of people united by a passion for making things that make the world better. Each Fellow is working with the Lab on a different project that hopes to create impact in the world. Among the projects, there’s learning through fashion, new approaches to maker spaces, smashing together humor and technology, and a project that will help people atone for violent crimes. It’s an understatement to say that it’s an extremely inspiring group.

As we were working on the ideas and directions for the Fellow’s projects this weekend, one of the Fellows, Geetha Narayan, made a comment that stopped me cold.  Referring to the way we bounce madly around in our lives, she noted…

We are driven by a culture of immediacy.
How can we create experiences we can savor?

Consider for a moment how much our need for progress and satisfaction informs the way we live our lives and what we choose to create. We live in a world that despises waiting. But this also has us often with our body in the present and our mind somewhere else. Geetha’s comment strikes me as a massively important observation, both as a life principle and a design principle.

As a life principle, it’s advice for the world we’ve created for each other. (And I’m terrible about this.) We’re all creatures of endless options and immediate satisfaction. If we aren’t particularly interested with a certain pursuit, we’re immediately on to the next thing. But in this frenetic pursuit of happiness, I wonder if we’re leaving enough space to learn about ourselves? I love the challenge of savoring an experience. It’s not consuming more and more. It’s not about riding the roller coaster over and over. It’s about experiencing something, then reflecting and considering how it affected you. Like sipping good wine and pausing to consider how the chemistry of the drink has altered the feeling in your mouth.

As a design principle, it seems equally powerful. In this case, the idea of savoring becomes and invitation, not an obligation. Instead of always designing for progress and forward flow, you build moments for people to pause. (I’ve heard service designers refer to these moments as eddies, referring to the swirls that happen on the side of a riverbank.) Premium services know how to incorporate the idea of savoring. High-end markets will sample ingredients and share its story. Great hotels have a knock for suspending the idea of time upon arrival; bags disappear and attendants have you relax while they arrange your room. These moments encourage you to break your pace, breathe and consider where you are.

Today, it feels like a small victory to hold people’s attention long enough to create a meaningful moment. Geetha’s comment had me wondering how to savor more, and it’s an inspiration to create services that inspire the same. I don’t mean to rally against progress; building an interconnected world that moves faster each day is just a reality. But we’re responsible for the future we create. I’m  wondering if we don’t design a little more savoring into our lives, if we’ll flow effortlessly through more and more frictionless experiences, we’ll end up slipping memoryless through our lives. 

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