Jenna Wortham might be a kindred spirit. As a tech reporter at the NY Times, she's written about young people who are indifferent to or critical of digital media… Voila, her latest: Shunning Facebook and Living to Tell About It. She also cites a Pew finding that 16 percent of the U.S. population doesn't have cellphones.
A companion piece at the Times' Learning Network asked student readers whether they would ever quit Facebook. Many responded that they had never joined Facebook, rarely logged on to the site, considered deleting their accounts all the time, only used social media for work, etc. Some said that Facebook was "getting creepier every day" or just "a drama site." (Below: Infographic courtesy of The New York Times)
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.
A view of my iGoogle home page on my new all-in-one iMac (left) versus the same page on my old Dell laptop (right).
Maybe I don't like digital media. Then again, maybe I just didn't like MY digital media.
Readers of this blog have already laid eyes upon the device I carry that passes for a cellphone, which will no longer enable the "walk-and-talk" or receive unsolicited texts once I start the Slow Media Project next month and replace it with a landline.
What you might not know is that last year, when I hatched this plan of going offline, I was using the crummy laptop pictured above as my primary computer. It's a miracle I got anything done on that thing, yet alone five years of work, including the vast majority of my dissertation.
Behold, however, my shiny new computer: a 24-inch iMac with beautiful resolution, a wireless mouse and 1TB of memory. I will miss it dearly — including, but not limited to, the Netflix that it beams into my home (soon to be replaced with basic cable).
People are usually surprised to hear that I do in fact love many aspects of digital media. But really, wouldn't the project be uninteresting if I hated the Internet? Then there would be no challenge, no sacrifice. It would be like me giving up sardines or pickles for Lent.
Recent BBC reports reveal some strange goings-on in South Korea, the "most wired nation on Earth," where social networking was practically invented. In a recent BBC survey conducted across 26 countries, four in five adults said Internet access should
be "a fundamental right of all people," with South Korea showing the highest level of support (96%).
Then, as part of its "On/Off" project, BBC recruited two South Korean families to spend a week without the Internet. Some said that living offline was inconvenient and felt "suffocating" but others enjoyed "rediscovering lost time" to play with their kids and drink tea with neighbors. While one person never wanted "to go through this again," another recommended that "everyone should spend a week without the Internet."
Another segment of this project followed a rural community in Nigeria, where people usually travel 30 miles to get online, after some villagers got mobile Internet phones. It's striking what a difference these devices can make in a context — unlike developed nations — where there's no running water or electricity yet alone basic access to e-mail communication and online information about, say, health or politics.
My family has enjoyed chiming in on the Slow Media critique. For example, my aunt gave me this amusing coffee mug that serves as reminder of how much she loves texting.
This year's Christmas dinner provided a rich opportunity to talk Slow Media with my relatives. My dad, who's 85, just "got on e-mail" (again). Or so he claims… He has called me on the telephone to confirm receiving my e-mail messages but I have not actually received an e-mail from him yet. This is maybe the third time in a dozen years that he's set up an e-mail account, never used it, then canceled it. He retired (from the phone company) 20 years ago, before PCs were ubiquitous, so he's never really taken to the gooey interfaces, yet alone the series of tubes.
My brother, who at age 35 is a tech-savvy engineer, just "got on Facebook" a couple of months ago… but only because colleagues bribed or blackmailed him into it with some sort of Secret Santa shenanigans. He's already become disenchanted with the superficiality of online social networking and threatening to quit. It bothers him that on Facebook some "friends" do not treat him like, you know, friends. He says he plans to keep in touch with important people
in his life "in more meaningful ways."
Then my cousin, who's also 35 and works in finance, brought up the topic of exploitative text pricing. Consumer Reports has been running a campaign against the rising cost of text messages. Consumers Union, which publishes the magazine, says that cellphone companies keep raising per-text costs for customers without SMS plans, even though the actual cost to the companies of sending these short messages is negligible.
He sent me links to some Popular Mechanics articles that explain how texting now costs $749 per megabyte–more than four times what NASA pays to transmit data from the Hubble telescope back to Earth. The magazine also gives these useful tips for e-mailing text messages from your smartphone to obviate the extra charges. Of course, we could just give in and sign up for unlimited monthly packages. But, should we have to?
Now I'm thinking that technology resistance might run in my family.