More signs of a Slow Media Movement… on Facebook

People keep pointing out to me the apparent "irony" of fueling a digital-media resistance movement via the Internet. Many critics of the present environment, like myself, try to be clear that we're not Luddites struggling to destroy the machines. We're just trying to slow them down a bit, perhaps keep them in their circumscribed place instead of letting them creep all over our culture.

In any case, Facebook just might have something to teach us about this nascent concept of slow media. As of press time, the "Slow Media Movement" on Facebook has nine members, including yours truly. Here's a glimpse at their mission statement, which takes aim at multi-tasking and what might be called "distractedness":

"We believe, first and foremost, that listening to music or watching
films should be deliberate acts; that the current trend of collecting
music and movies in gigantic batches of unrelated and overly compressed
digital files is not only changing our methods for interacting with
such materials, but is fundamentally changing the materials themselves;
that a far better way to enjoy music is in an intentional or deliberate
manner where the listener or viewer is relaxed and prepared, rather
than solely while on public transit or while engaging in other
activities. Does this mean we hate our iPods and iPhones and
other media devices? No! It simply means that sometimes media is best
enjoyed without dividing your attention between it and other activities."

The "Slowbies–Slow Philosophy" group is doing slightly better, with a membership of 77, though it focuses less explicitly on media. The guy who started this group was inspired by Carl Honore's book "In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed." He also sings to the glory of idleness, though he's specific about not being anti-productivity:

"In this media-drenched, data-rich, channel-surfing, computer-gaming
age. we have lost the art of doing nothing, of shutting out the
background noise and distractions, of slowing down and simply being
alone with our thoughts. Boredom—-the word itself hardly existed 150
years ago—-is a modern invention. Remove all stimulation, and we
fidget, panic and look for something, anything, to do to make use of
the time. When did you last see someone just gazing out the window on a
train? Everyone is too busy reading the paper, playing video games,
listening to iPods, working on the laptop, yammering into mobile
phones."

He says that the group is part of a growing global movement against the addiction to speed that's "16 million strong in
the UK already." (He also links to a site for the International Institute of Not Doing Much, which claims more than 2000 members and sells t-shirts.) I'll have to look for the basis of that figure… Also, I wonder what the OED has to say about the origins of "boredom."

Then there's my own group, "Facebook, Stop Colonizing My Lifeworld!" My supporters only number in the single digits, too… so far. Maybe the semi-obscure, quasi-elitist Habermas reference is scaring away the masses. Or maybe all these strands of the Slow Media Movement need to be woven together, to present a more unified front, to mix a metaphor.

If you know of any more groups–Facebook or otherwise–plugging Slow Media, please post a comment and let me know!

Desert island medium

If you were stuck alone on a desert island for three days and could pick one single medium to use, which would it be? Assume that all of your material needs are met: food, drink, clothing, shelter. 

The mediums on offer include books, iPods, phone calls, texting, magazines, Facebook (not the whole Internet; just the Facebook site), newspapers and radio. Cellphones and computers, of course, merge so many different functions that we tried to unbundle those modes here, for argument's sake.

A quick classroom poll tonight yielded a surprising result. The winner, by a margin of 2-to-1, was books. Texting, phone calls and iPods all got two votes each. Magazines and Facebook each got one vote. Newspapers and radios came up friendless, at least for a 72-hour stay under these conditions.

People cited "escape" and "passing the time" as reasons to choose books, while others preferred phone calls as a means of "connecting" or getting information through two-way exchange.

Maybe print culture isn't dead after all, though books and magazines together earned support from four students while digital media as a single category garnered favor from five.

Some students pointed out the power limitations of electronic devices and suggested that their choice would veer toward print if they knew they wouldn't have three days' worth of juice.

Technophiles and technophobes

In the Mass Media & Culture class, we've been talking about different theories about and attitudes toward the role of media technologies in our culture. This week, we read some chapters from Neil Postman's book "Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology." (The subtitle says it all!) In the comments posted below, students are giving their perspective on the concepts of technophilia and technophobia, in three parts: 

– Do you consider Postman to be a technophobe or a technophile? Why?

– In what ways do you agree or disagree with his views?

– Which of these terms best describes you? Give some examples.

Digital natives, digital immigrants…

We were talking last week in my Media & Culture class about Neil Postman's views on "technopoly," the idea that technology is not only becoming a bigger part of our culture but pretty much taking it over. (More on Postman in a later post!) This led me to ask students: Do any of them get frustrated with the role that digital media like cellphones or the Internet plays in their lives? Answers were affirmative but focused on the absence of technology, not its presence: Yes, I hate it when I forget my cellphone and have to spend an hour going home for it. Yes, it's annoying when I can't get a signal, my computer is too slow, etc. The class argued against Postman's perspective but unwittingly confirmed it, universally perceiving digital media as pure boon without bane.

I started thinking, "Hey, maybe it's just me. Or maybe the difference in attitudes is generational." (Despite the fact that, in my late 30s, I'm not quite a generation older than the students.) This discussion came in the wake of our watching a PBS Frontline documentary about "Growing Up Online" that's full of scare-mongering and moral panics by parents and teachers about What The Internet Is Doing to Our Children and How Powerless We Are to Stop It (alternate online identities, soft-porn profile pictures, privacy issues, cyberstalkers and predators, etc.) The adults featured in the program made a few good points but overall their moralistic concerns seemed a little overblown, to the mind of this teaching non-parent, anyway.

One theory for undertanding this shift that the PBS producers are keen on — and that I also find useful, to a point — is that of "Digital Natives" and "Digital Immigrants." The terms seem to be coined by Mark Prensky, who describes himself as
"an internationally acclaimed thought leader, speaker, writer,
consultant, and game designer." He says that people who were not born into the digital world but have adopted many aspects of new technology are immigrants, whereas students are native speakers of the "language" of computers, video games and the Internet. It's safe to say that I'm the latter and my students are the former.

It's also safe to say that Prensky is the anti-Postman. While they both believe, as do I, that this shift from a print culture to a televised and now digital one represents a huge discontinuity with profound consequences for education, Postman is sensibly skeptical about the presumed gains and unusually attentive to the potential losses that this brings. Prensky, on the other hand, has blind faith that the digitally molded minds of today's students represent a great leap forward for humanity. As Mao's cultural revolution proved, great leaps are not always forward-bound.