Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that students in my Mass Media & Culture class were ambivalent toward my critique of digital communication and my nostalgia for analog alternatives. After all, they're members of the "Millennial Generation" (which doesn't even consider e-mailing or texting to be "writing," according to this Pew survey) and I'm just a digital immigrant.
So color me surprised when many of them got sentimental in their reports on the Slow Media Experiment! In this assignment, students spent three hours engaged with analog media or other non-digital entertainments of their choice — such as watching VHS tapes, keeping written journals, playing musical instruments, listening to vinyl records and audio-cassettes, painting, sketching, making ceramics, etc.
As it happens, many of these college students missed middle-school-era activities that had been pushed aside as their lives got busier (in part due to increasing digital communication). Here's a small sampling of their responses to the experiment:
- I chose to write in my journal because it is something that
I used to do every night when I was growing up and haven’t done since middle
school. I’ve always felt too busy or tired to sit down and write out my
thoughts after a full day at school or whatever it was that filled up my day.
Eventually I forgot about doing it all together. This assignment gave me a
reason to do it again after four years. When I was a kid, writing in my journal
was a special, almost sacred part of my day. It was a chance to be alone with
my thoughts. It felt so easy and relaxing. Writing in a diary is something
truly unique, and there is no digital alternative that can fully capture the
experience. There is something to be said for sitting down in a comfortable,
quiet place and writing out slowly and deliberately your every thought and
- First I practiced calligraphy, an art class that I am taking
in school. It's non-Western calligraphy, so we
have been practicing Arabic calligraphic work, which is very interesting. I
used a pen and ink to practice Arabic letters such as the S, L, J and B. The
advantage of doing these activities was that it caused me to be really engrossed
in what I was doing and I wasn’t really concerned with my cellphone or who
might be trying to reach me at the moment. Doing art was very therapeutic. I don’t
believe that you can recreate art with digital media tools.
The activities that I chose to do included writing in a
journal, watching a VHS tape, and listening to audio-cassettes. I haven’t
spent any time doing things like this since I was in elementary school. Doing
this experiment felt like a blast from the past. I was able to rummage through some boxes
full of old tapes and chose to watch a video of a play that my old church put
on, entitled “The Verdict,” where my dad narrated and even had a few lines. The
movie was a modernized version of Jesus’ last days before he was crucified
where he was put to trial to prove his case. It was funny to watch all the
people I grew up with take this acting seriously, but they did a good job.
Lastly, I found some of my dad’s audio-cassettes. I chose to listen to the
Jackson 5, The Gap Band, and Bob Marley. I popped these tapes in an old Walkman
my mom used to use when she went jogging; I was surprised it still worked.
- The day was foggy and it had everyone's spirits down, so I decided to start my project. First, I began to paint, then I decided to watch a VHS movie. At first I wasn't sure what to paint, but once I started, I couldn't stop. I had forgotten how much fun painting was. After I finished, I went into the guest room to watch Sailor Moon, my favorite movie when I was 13 years old. It brought me so many memories of being a child and playing with my friends. These were the weirdest three hours I ever spent.
- I chose to play a musical instrument because I used to play
the trumpet in middle school and I really enjoyed it. Since I have not played
it in years and it is just collecting dust, I thought it was a good idea to
start playing again. Unfortunately, I could only remember a few songs and sadly
I forgot some notes! The best part about this activity is that I remember how
much I loved playing, and I will not let dust collect on my trumpet again!
What an innovative and interesting assignment. It’s shocking to read how many riches from the analog world our students have lost through their devotion to digital. It’ll be neat to see whether any of them continue with these off-line activities throughout the semester; you could try asking them about it in a couple of weeks.