Slow Media Movement coalescing into brick-and-mortar


I haven’t been posting much since I went back online nine months ago, because I’m still trying to keep a lid on my Internet use. But sometimes there's big news in the Slow Media world that’s worth sharing, so I’ll make occasional exceptions.

Like this one: It was exciting to see a center devoted to Slow Media spring up… even though it’s 1,031 miles from New York City, so I probably won’t get there any time soon. It sounds like the kind of thing that you’d see in Bushwick or other arts-oriented neighborhoods: a big old industrial space where people work together to build an alternative culture.

In this case, it’s a combination used bookstore-artisanal baker-piano repair/tuning service-and-book designer/letterpress printer/custom picture framer united under the auspices of a “Driftless Center for Slow Media” at the evocatively named Forgotten Works Warehouse in Viroqua, Wisconsin.

The center aims to encourage and celebrate "intentional, thoughtfully crafted and homespun media," according to its website. Looks like a beautiful old building where they host zine exhibits, Bloomsday readings, old-time music, events honoring Lorem Ipsum, and the occasional record party or vaudeville show. I’ll check it out, the next time I'm passing through Viroqua on my way from Romance to Viola.

Back online, somewhat ambivalently


People sent me a lot of postcards during the digital-detox experiment, but this one is probably my favorite since it combines postcard, newspaper and typewriting all in one.


After six months of immersing myself in Slow Media, I’m back online now — though still not using a cellphone. Interwebbing was fun for the first few days, but surprisingly the excitement faded fast.

Since starting the experiment in July, I have used payphones and yellow pages and typewriters… penned piles of letters and postcards… watched all my VHS tapes and listened to all my audiocassettes (along with some vinyl, until my record-player broke)… devoured a huge stack of newspapers and books… deciphered many a printed map…. and taken photographs with disposable cameras, 35mm film and Polaroids.

It was really fun. And honestly, life without digital media wasn’t that hard, folks. You should try it. Maybe just for a day, or a weekend?

Next up: I might perform a week of silent meditation to challenge the assumption that we need to speak, or maybe I’ll stop washing my hair for a few months to prove that we don’t need shampoo.

The fading art of letter-writing

WNYC’s Leonard Lopate caught my attention when he began this radio program about letter-writing by asking, “Can you remember the last time you sat down to write someone a letter that was more than just a note?” (My answer was: Yes! That very morning I had written a letter to my friend in Paris, even though I could have posted a note on her Facebook wall… or sent her an e-mail… or commented on her blog.)

What followed was an intriguing interview with the author of a book called Yours Ever: People and their Letters, which discusses the loss of these social and historical artifacts. Thomas Mellon, who has also written about diary-keeping, said he started this project 15 years ago when e-mail was just nascent. It evolved into an “elegy” to the genre, he said — which suggests that he thinks letter-writing is dead, though perhaps not beyond resuscitation.

Some other questions Lopate could have posed: Do you think that you’ll be re-reading old e-mails, text messages and Facebook posts some day in your golden years? Will your children be able to browse through your e-mails after you’re gone, to see what their parents were like as younger people? Are future scholars likely to delve into your old digital messages and revel in the valuable insights they offer?

The library of the subconscious

MediatedEnoughParadoxofchoice InpraiseofslownessCultofinformation
There's a small pile of books accumulating on my shelves… stuff that I've been buying and hording (i.e. not reading) for the past few years, for no particular purpose. I call it my library of the subconscious. Since I've started this blog about digital detoxification, though, it's obvious that a theme is emerging. Can you see what it is?

  • The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More (Barry Schwartz)
  • In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed (Carl Honore)
  • Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age (Bill McKibben)
  • Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It (Thomas De Zengotita)
  • The Cult of Information: A Neo-Luddite Treatise on High-Tech, Artificial Intelligence, and the True Art of Thinking (Theodore Roszak)

Maybe the slow media diet will give me an opportunity to finally consume these things. A few other ones that I'm looking forward to reading soon: Against Technology: From the Luddites to Neo-Luddism (Steven E. Jones), The Tyranny of E-mail: The Four-Thousand Year Journey to Your Inbox (John Freeman), You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Jared Lanier).

Speaking of books, I just re-read this great one called The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage,
who considers telegrams as a historical analogy for e-mails and text
messages. The author recounts how people of the mid-19th-century were
originally skeptical about the telegraph and wondered why anyone would need, or
want, to send instantaneous messages over long distances.

And this was at a time when it took the Pony Express at least 10 days to deliver
letters from Missouri to California! Back then, boosters believed wholeheartedly that the telegraph would usher in an era of worldwide peace, love and understanding. Sheesh, 175 years and counting… Where's our global village, already? Maybe it's time we admit that more information and faster communication is not the solution.

I recall saying something along those lines to the dissertation committee at my oral exam — joking that the world's information problems had been solved and I should shift my focus to transit issues, since transportation is clearly more intractable. The room full of journalism and sociology professors laughed heartily, whether at the truth or the absurdity of it, I can't say.

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.