Shaking the “more-faster-better” habit

Mindful media unsettles the assumption that fast is good and slow is bad. Our default mode for using media has become what David Levy calls “more-faster-better,” a lopsided habit that is not desirable or sustainable. Sometimes less is more; sometimes slower is better.

In the tech realm, people tend to associate slowness with infirmity or incompetence and speed with high energy or performance, according to Alex Pang. But in the human realm, slowness is often a sign of skill, mastery, and experience.

As we move toward a mindful culture, the bias toward “more-faster-better” remains an obstacle. Talking about Slow Media creates an opportunity for reflecting on and challenging our assumptions about the relationship between technology, society, and the planet. Mindful media advocates share a commitment to techniques like breathing, monotasking, slowing down, stopping, and even unplugging.

“Start taking the politics of time seriously”

The Slow perspective encourages us to challenge our assumptions about media choices, to look beyond speed, and to imagine alternatives that enhance both sustainability and free will. Small changes in everyday practices can make a difference, when enough of us make them in unison.

Yet media use is more than a matter of personal choice. People will find it difficult to change their own media habits without advocating for changes in other people and institutions. Individual actions are necessary but insufficient to solve what is fundamentally a systemic problem.

Getting to a new level of civilization will require comprehensive social and cultural changes—particularly ones that give people more control over their own time and pace. Slow Media has great potential to transform the everyday lives if its advocates start taking the politics of time seriously.

You don’t have to go live in the woods (unless you want to)

What can you do to further the cause of Slow Media, as a citizen, student, colleague, and consumer?

  • Just make time for enjoying print and analog media, as well as unmediated experiences.
  • Experiment with vintage techniques that will stretch and exercise your brain, like Slow Reading, Slow Listening, keeping a paper journal, or navigating by map.
  • Be mindful about the email you send, check messages less frequently, and turn off alerts to the extent possible.
  • Develop habits like breathing, monotasking, and taking breaks whenever you use fast media.
  • Set some parameters for building Slow intervals into your schedule, even for a few hours.
  • Practice empathy for people whose media habits, schedules, lifestyles, and tempos might differ from your own.

That’s the easy part. Then there’s becoming a green media consumer and citizen, which means recognizing that media use and production involves limits and that planetary resources are finite.

  • Resist buying media that you don’t need and reuse what you can.
  • Consume media products and services from companies that follow sustainable practices.
  • Support people who produce magazines, journalism, films, websites, and other media products in ethical ways.
  • Dispose of digital devices responsibly.
  • Learn some basics of environmental science and become comfortable with a new vocabulary of consumption.
  • Get familiar with processes that take place invisibly behind your screens.
  • Do some research, using resources like Greenpeace’s Click Clean Reports and GoodElectronics’ website.

Let’s use tech to promote pre-digital values: connection, creativity and respect

Douglas Rushkoff has long been one of my public-intellectual heroes – a short list that also includes Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein and Bob McChesney. You might know one of his 20 books about media culture (Program or Be Programmed, Life Inc., Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus) or his Frontline documentaries (Generation Like, The Persuaders). MIT called him one of the world’s 10 most influential thinkers.

I was totally elated when Rushkoff invited me to talk on the Team Human podcast recently. His mission jibes perfectly with Slow Media! Blaed Spence, a warrior-shaman and co-founder of Wired magazine, gave her own spin on life beyond screens, too. The podcast starts with a saucy monologue by Rushkoff, a sassy conversation with Spence (at 12‘30), and then my talk at (39‘0).

There’s an odd moment where I told the audience they don’t need to buy stuff or use social media to justify their existence, that they’re okay the way they are. For some reason, everyone chuckled. My sentiment was sincere, no joke!

Ep. 123 Live from Portland with Blaed Spence and Jennifer Rauch “Beyond the Screen”

“Looking for a dimmer switch on technology”

One of goal of Slow Media is to help subvert false or binary choices about digital media use. However, the larger problem is whether individuals still have any choice. Generation X might have been the last for whom decisions about how, when, or if to use digital media remained a matter of personal preference. Our choices regarding technology have narrowed decisively: do we opt to use digital devices all of the time, or most of the time?

At the individual level, many Post- Luddites are just looking for a dimmer switch on technology; they don’t want to leave the light on full-blast. (Much the same is true of Slow Media advocates; they just don’t want to go full-speed all the time.) At the collective level, Post-Luddites ponder why that light shines on certain things instead of others and whether the light should be powered by new sources—not only renewable energy, but also democratic decision-making.