Protest visionary: E-mail feels like “denial-of-service attack against my brain”

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Adbusters editor and protest motivator Micah White prefers people to send letters to his snail-mail address. His website reads: "Micah does not use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, et cetera. He reluctantly accepts e-mail at micah@adbusters.org."

 

Micah White, the 29-year-old Adbusters editor who helped spur the Occupy Wall Street movement, is not on Facebook, which he calls "the commercialization of friendship."

In a New Yorker article last month about the origins of OWS, White said that he used e-mail and Twitter only because he felt compelled to. He said that he believed in "the Heideggerian critique of technology, that it turns us into empty matter for the exportation of capitalism."

"All these e-mails — it feels like a denial-of-service attack against my brain," the Canadian told reporter Mattathias Schwartz.

A third of Americans still resisting Facebook

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)

 

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Texting costs $749 per megabyte, and other techno-skeptic holiday tales from my family

SMS XOXO coffee mug

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.

More signs of a Slow Media Movement… on Facebook

People keep pointing out to me the apparent "irony" of fueling a digital-media resistance movement via the Internet. Many critics of the present environment, like myself, try to be clear that we're not Luddites struggling to destroy the machines. We're just trying to slow them down a bit, perhaps keep them in their circumscribed place instead of letting them creep all over our culture.

In any case, Facebook just might have something to teach us about this nascent concept of slow media. As of press time, the "Slow Media Movement" on Facebook has nine members, including yours truly. Here's a glimpse at their mission statement, which takes aim at multi-tasking and what might be called "distractedness":

"We believe, first and foremost, that listening to music or watching
films should be deliberate acts; that the current trend of collecting
music and movies in gigantic batches of unrelated and overly compressed
digital files is not only changing our methods for interacting with
such materials, but is fundamentally changing the materials themselves;
that a far better way to enjoy music is in an intentional or deliberate
manner where the listener or viewer is relaxed and prepared, rather
than solely while on public transit or while engaging in other
activities. Does this mean we hate our iPods and iPhones and
other media devices? No! It simply means that sometimes media is best
enjoyed without dividing your attention between it and other activities."

The "Slowbies–Slow Philosophy" group is doing slightly better, with a membership of 77, though it focuses less explicitly on media. The guy who started this group was inspired by Carl Honore's book "In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed." He also sings to the glory of idleness, though he's specific about not being anti-productivity:

"In this media-drenched, data-rich, channel-surfing, computer-gaming
age. we have lost the art of doing nothing, of shutting out the
background noise and distractions, of slowing down and simply being
alone with our thoughts. Boredom—-the word itself hardly existed 150
years ago—-is a modern invention. Remove all stimulation, and we
fidget, panic and look for something, anything, to do to make use of
the time. When did you last see someone just gazing out the window on a
train? Everyone is too busy reading the paper, playing video games,
listening to iPods, working on the laptop, yammering into mobile
phones."

He says that the group is part of a growing global movement against the addiction to speed that's "16 million strong in
the UK already." (He also links to a site for the International Institute of Not Doing Much, which claims more than 2000 members and sells t-shirts.) I'll have to look for the basis of that figure… Also, I wonder what the OED has to say about the origins of "boredom."

Then there's my own group, "Facebook, Stop Colonizing My Lifeworld!" My supporters only number in the single digits, too… so far. Maybe the semi-obscure, quasi-elitist Habermas reference is scaring away the masses. Or maybe all these strands of the Slow Media Movement need to be woven together, to present a more unified front, to mix a metaphor.

If you know of any more groups–Facebook or otherwise–plugging Slow Media, please post a comment and let me know!

My postcard experiment

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Some of the vintage postcards that my friends might — or might not — have received recently.


To indulge my new fetish for slow media, I just sent a few dozen postcards to friends and family this weekend. For some reason, it felt like an experiment. I'm interested in seeing how, or whether, people respond to them. It's probably somewhat rare these days for any of them to find a postcard — especially one from me, in any case — in their mailboxes. Also, it seemed like it would be fun to send this small collection of humorous vintage postcards that I bought back in 1993 (above). It seemed like it was time to finally use them.

I must say, preparing those postcards to mail was kind of a pain. One post office was out of postcard stamps and there was a long line at the other one, which didn't have a stamp vending machine (just realized I could have ordered them online!). It took almost a week to get them out. I got writer's cramp. It was tedious repeating slight variations of the same message on all those cards. My handwriting is terrible when I write that much that quickly, so people will probably struggle to read the messages. The space constraint felt unfamiliar; one of the blessings/curses of postcards, of course, is that you can only write a few lines. That wasn't nearly enough room to accommodate everything I wanted to say to some friends, while short messages left conspicuously blank space on other cards.

I recently moved to a new city, so the premise for corresponding with everyone was conveying the new address. I could have done this by e-mail and avoided the space constraint. Also, ironically, I had to check Facebook profiles for several people to make sure they still lived where I thought they did. (They didn't! One family from North Carolina just moved to West Virginia, another friend from Louisiana seems to be in Florida now, etc. Guess there's little impetus now to inform people of new whereabouts since they can always find you online regardless of where you live.) Although several people send me Christmas and birthday cards, the rest probably won't use my snail mail for anything, anyway.

Basically, I'm never doing that again. Unless I get a lot of positive feedback from recipients that makes it seem worthwhile — feedback that would have been facilitated if I had sent e-mails and people could have replied at the click of a few buttons. Will people contact me to comment on the unusual postcard, or respond in kind somehow? Will the postcard get delivered to the right place, since USPS probably doesn't either forward them to new addresses or bounce them back to the sender? Will anyone even notice the cards in his or her neglected mailbox, mixed in with bills and catalogs and junk-mail? If the postcards do arrive, however, there's a chance that recipients will enjoy and display and share the postcard more than they would an e-mail message.