Digital divides: Going offline in South Korea and online in Nigeria

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%).

First, BBC News reported that a South Korean couple obsessed with caring for a virtual daughter online let their real baby starve to death. The parents became addicted to the Internet as an escape from reality after losing their jobs, according to police, and only fed their three-month-old baby once per day because they spent 12-hour stretches at an Internet cafe.

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.

Continue reading “Digital divides: Going offline in South Korea and online in Nigeria”

The discovery of the digital tardiness (and my new nom-de-plume, Jennifer Smoke)

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The German public radio network, ZDF, ran this great snail photo with its recent story about Slow Media, which follows below (as translated by Babel Fish).


On-line Filmer Kirby Ferguson wanted to deslag – mentally. Thus he did
not meals or alcohol, but without speed in the Internet. Slow Media is
called the movement from the USA, which sloshes now also to Germany.

The rules are clear: In the Internet surf is forbidden – exactly the
same as blog, News feeds, television YouTube, DVDs and Twitter. The
computer use and the multitasking are reduced. Maximally 30 minutes
private emails per day are permitted. Okay is " everything that ist" on
paper; , as well as radio, Podcasts, cinema. And a Hintertürchen gives
it: A daily Blog and Facebook update are permitted.

Ferguson brakes

It is an experiment, which Kirby Ferguson at the beginning of the yearly places itself. On-line
Filmer made of New York is " Digitally Native". He says of itself: "
Most of all I make everything gleichzeitig."

Facebook, Twitter, a blog,
YouTube, RSS feed – Ferguson goes through everywhere. And as like that
is in a Blog Facebook Nabelschauwelt: He observes himself thereby. And
it states that its concentration frays that its thoughts constantly fly
away to him.

Continue reading “The discovery of the digital tardiness (and my new nom-de-plume, Jennifer Smoke)”

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).

But
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
anything
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?

Continue reading “My Slow Media diet: How will it work? For how long?”

You may be right, I may be crazy, but…

I've hatched this idea whereby I'm planning to totally abstain from digital media, for a substantial period of time. No Internet, no cellphone, no CDs or DVDs, no television, no e-mail, no iPods or Wii's, no texting, no Google. There are still a lot of details to be worked out: which forms of communication will be off-limits, what the acceptable substitutes will be, how long the experiment will last. I'm thinking at least a month, maybe a semester or even a year.

Most people laugh when I tell them about my plan. Responses to the proposal tend to fall into two camps: 1) it's an admirable plan but it cannot be done, or 2) it's a undesirable plan and it cannot be done anyway. "No way!" one person exclaimed. "Should I just giggle?" another asked. My friends and colleagues generally think that digital media are indispensable tools without which modern human beings cannot survive or, at least, without which life is not worth living. I like to point out that large swathes of the world somehow get by using little or no digital media, including my father right here in the U.S.A., a lifelong mechanical engineer who doesn't know how to go online.

Americans aren't pre-disposed for abstinence, that's for sure, what with the Protestant work ethic and all. How successful were the counter-cultural movements promoting "TV Turnoff Week" — now rechristened "Digital Detox Week" and devoted to "screen-time awareness"! — and "Buy Nothing Day"? (If you don't already know these campaigns, they've been around since the early 90s, taking place the third week of April and the Friday after Thanksgiving, respectively. You might consider the latter an appealing alternative to 6 a.m. mayhem at the local box store on Black Friday this year). Our culture values productivity, abundance, speed and busy-ness over the absences thereof — namely, slowness and idleness. Spiritual types might say that we're just racing towards death.

Every year, I assign my students a "Digital Media Abstinence" project, where they're supposed to avoid the Internet, cellphones, TV/DVD, etc. for a single day. Usually, only a couple of people in a class of around 20 report getting through one day without media, and even those scant claims of success can't be verified. Many of them admit that they didn't try that hard. They seem bewildered when I mention my own lifestyle experiment, incredulous as to why anyone would want to do such a thing.

Other friends have helpfully recommended that I resurrect my Walkman and rabbit ears. An old, dear friend of mine did show faith in my ability to carry out
the project, asserting that I am good at denying myself things.
(Hope she'll notice that I just called her "old"!) But really, it's not denial when you think of all the alternative ways of spending one's time that open up when one creates the space for them. If I get bored while abstaining from digital media, it might be due to a failure of imagination.