My Slow Media diet: How will it work? For how long?

I've been referring to my pending experiment as a digital media fast, or something like that. I'm thinking, though, that terms like "abstinence," "avoidance" and "fast" focus too much on what's lost instead of calling attention to what's gained. Namely, the time to pursue a host of other things. It's been a long time since I read a novel… or practiced Chinese calligraphy… or baked a pear pie… or used my watercolor set… or went hiking on the Appalachian trail.

So why not a "Slow Media diet"? This phrase captures the idea of a regimen that excludes many convenient things, but includes many better things that involve some effort and imagination. It could be like giving up Cosi and making your own sandwiches or having one at a friend's house, instead — to stretch the food metaphor perhaps a bit too far.

I imagine that for purposes of the experiment, I'll pretend that
it's 1989 (one of my formative years, naturally) and permit myself to
use whatever media were available in that communication environment of
two decades ago. This includes landlines, faxes, printed newspapers and
magazines, books, radio, VHS tapes, records and cassettes, television
(provided its still broadcast), etc. — along with anything unmediated. Still a lot of details to work out here regarding how to define and delimit digital media, a tricky task since they've encroached on every facet of our lives.

As for the timeframe: I initially thought I would do this for just a
month, maybe over the summer break when it would be easier to "clear my
plate" of work obligations that require computer use. Lately, I've been
talking to some people who urge me to be more ambitious and give up
digital media for a year (easy for them to say! Maybe they enjoy the prospect of living vicariously through me).

really, the year-long "lifestyle experiment" has become pretty standard
in our culture. A year in Provence. A year of living dangerously, and
also of living biblically (that guy A.J. Jacobs has single-handedly built a cottage
industry of doing odd things and keeping diaries). There's the woman that didn't buy
for a year, the family that didn't use toilet paper for a year, and the woman who cooked Julia Child every day for
a year (leading to a book, movie, and long Netflix queue for The French Chef). I wonder just how closely they hewed to their own rules.

Could I avoid using any cellphones, computers or other digital
media for a whole year? Could you?

I'm also toying with the
idea of excluding sources of not only entertainment but also
information (e.g. news radio and papers), to investigate the concepts
of information "glut," "overload" or "data smog" as well as the
theories that "There are few political, social or personal problems
that arise because of insufficient information" (Neil Postman) and that
we live in a "Cult of Information" (Theodore Roszak).

Hard as it might be to live without digital music and digital videos, though, it would be even more difficult to foresake The New York Times and National Public Radio. A year without news? For a journalism professor and lifelong news junkie? That would be setting an ironic challenge for myself.


  1. This is a provocative concept I have a friend who tried to give up facebook for a week. Bc it is a time zapper and makes the time management of schoolwork and taking care if baby and the house difficult. I find myself in the same dilemma. Bur I just now learned from my 10 year old how to fill the iPod I got as shift for Xmas 2006!!

  2. I once went 2 months without TV or the evening news. I was working in a rural part of Colorado. I heard through friends- on the phone and in letters- about some news, like sports teams, TV series, movies, and other world news. I felt a bit isolated, but also so FREE and focused on my work.

  3. I wonder which feels more isolating: being away from other people or just being away from information. The lack of distraction sounds great! Oddly, when I’m on vacation and not following the news, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

  4. J, I recently spent eight whole days at sea and off-line. No cell phone service, no Internet, no landline. I chose not to bring my iPod or other recorded music, and not to watch TV or movies. I found that I met more people, played chess for the first time in 20 years (even tried tag team chess in teams of two, no conferring allowed), enjoyed playing the piano for fun, not pay, slept more, ate less, and didn’t miss the Internet or the news much at all. Like my silent retreats, my off-line time gives me a chance to notice my surroundings and to learn about the world from people directly, rather than via the media whom I trust less and less the more I learn about how news is distributed.
    Even though I had brought three books, I soon lost interest in them. Instead
    I walked around talking to people and trying things I never do on land. I sang at karaoke; I watched bingo and trivia. I sat in a lounge and listened to the pianist tinkle away for his entire set without getting distracted by anything. And I had short, informal, surprising conversations with people I never ever meet during my regular routine of work and social life.
    I spoke to Christian fundamentalists, a KJ (karaoke DJ) from New Jersey, wealthy Republican business owners, unrepentant homophobes, reluctant grandparents, working-class Puerto Rican families, a lesbian animal control officer, a mental health worker from Rikers Island, a former station master of the MTA and model train enthusiast, an exhausted new father, several cruise-loving widowed sisters, and a couple of musicians who had plenty of time to practice and compose when not playing gigs on the ship.
    Most of these folks probably would have been too busy reading their blogs to talk to me, if we hadn’t been all on a cruise ship off-line for eight days. As soon as we approached New York harbor, everyone pulled out their phones and devices and the conversations ended. I felt sad.
    However, now that the cruise is over, I’m staying in touch with some of these folks via e-mail and FB. Go figure.

  5. This sounds like a fantastic vacation! Chess, piano, karaoke, bingo… It must have been great to talk with such a wide range of New Yorkers, who normally don’t take time to converse with strangers (devices notwithstanding). What cruise did you take? I’ve been enamored lately with the idea of a transatlantic crossing from Red Hook. It’s not even that expensive, compared to airfares nowadays.

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