Is there a “Slow Media Movement,” or is it just me?

"South Park" creators Matt Stone & Trey Parker made this animation, featuring Zen philosopher Alan Watts, that criticizes the culture of busy-ness.

Communication is a zero-sum game, to me. Since there are only 24 hours in a day, all the time I spend with one medium is time I can't really commit to another. People like to think that they can multi-task, but a lot of limitations come into play. You can listen to NPR while you type your blog (as I'm doing now) but blogging can't be performed simultaneously with writing a postcard (my next task). Also, the quality of my attention to the radio is pretty low right now; Terry Gross' guest sounds vaguely like Arianna Huffington but I couldn't tell you what the topic is.

To appease my longing for analog media, I've started toying with the idea of doing a digital media fast. All the time I spend online now will be devoted instead to postcards, letters, and whatnot. This will require a lot of substitution: landline for cellphone, fax for e-mail, record player for i-Pod, etc. Essentially, I'm going to pretend that it's 1989. In trying to come up with a term for this category of media that I'm trying to reinvigorate, I came up with "analog" and "anachronistic" before settling on Slow Media, in the spirit of Slow Food and the attendant Slow, or Slow Living, Philosophy.

As it happens, a quick Google search for "slow media" shows that other people have spontaneously generated the same concept and made the same connection. Helen de Michiel, a filmmaker who produced "Turn Here Sweet Corn" in 2001, links community-supported agriculture to the "slow media practice" that she espouses. Matt Shepherd, who seems to be a comic-books kind of guy, asked last year whether Slow Media was "a movement or a menace" and concluded that it was neither. He considers hand-written letters,
books/comics ("especially local authors"–analogous to "food miles," perhaps?), conversation groups, theatre,
and live music to be slow whereas fast would mean "cell phones, movies, the Internet, recorded
music and Clear Channel-type radio." I have my own ideas about where this boundary should be, so 'll have to get back to this definition in a future post.

I've mentioned my digital media fast to people a few times, and most of them seem to think that I'll be depriving myself of the Internet and cellphones. But it feels more like liberation than deprivation. As Matt Shepherd noted in his blog, "Saying 'Hey, cell phones suck' is not nearly as interesting to somebody as presenting a positive alternative." He also points out the irony of fostering a Slow Media Movement online but hey, what else are we gonna do?


  1. You used Google to find out about the slow media movement. That’s kind of funny. When you go on your fast, I may have to send a Pony Express to you with a note carved on wood. That would be hip.

  2. Only if you have an aquatic, swimming pony since you’ll be living in Paris by then!
    My argument isn’t that digital media are totally evil, but that they’re being adopted unquestioningly and despite the good they may do for our interpersonal communications, they’re also doing some harm. Also, that something important to our culture is being (has been) lost as we abandon(ed) analog communication specifically and as we embrace efficiency, speed and cheapness as guiding principles for human endeavor more generally.

  3. I do a digital media fast every weekend if I can manage it, and during vacations for even longer if possible.
    It really allows me to notice my surroundings, and when I return to a clogged Inbox and overflowing FB page, I realize how much of it is junk.
    I love postcards and put them up on my wall as soon as I receive them. Can’t do that with on-line posts, at least not in the handwriting of the author!

  4. Digital media fasts are a great idea for keeping balance. They do take some discipline, or maybe some outside help. (This is why I’m looking into software that reminds me to get offline and stay there!). Though they are inherently negative… the term emphasizes what you’re giving up instead of what you’re getting. Any alternative suggestions?

  5. I like your theme about being aware of the consequences. As a psychologist, I spend a lot of time thinking about thinking (it’s called metacognition). I actively ask, “What is the benefit?” “What are the implications?” “What are the risks and do they outweigh the benefits?”, etc. In days past, things changed so slowly that there was time to re-think, and change directions should something bad happen. Now, we have moved ten steps ahead before we realize that we made an error way back at, say, step 2. As humans we lack the ability to be sure of long term outcomes and it would serve us well if we went no faster than a step or two beyond our realy knowledge so that we could recover. Alas, however, it is extremely difficult to be successful in business, for example, without the trappings of speed.

  6. So right! As individuals and as a society we’re rushing headlong forwards. I’m a firm believer in progress, but is change always for the better? The relationships and expectations, especially business ones, behind the technological use are much of the problem. People used to strive to be as available, “on” and productive as possible in 40 hours… but now the work has no bounds and comes homes with us. I have the internal desire and discipline to get away from technology but I might be less successful in relative terms because I’d be compared to people who were willing to sacrifice their personal well-being. That’s why this is a cultural problem: social Darwinism, even?

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