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.

I read the newspaper (so others don’t have to)

I love the New York Times. I live in New York City. And I'm a journalism professor. So I feel like it's my personal, community and professional duty to get daily home delivery of one of the world's greatest newspapers. But sometimes when I see that foot-tall pile of papers accumulating over the course of a week, it seems like a part-time job and I kinda wish the Times were paying me to read their paper instead of vice versa.

Doing so, however, does unearth nuggets like these regarding current techno-cultural developments. First:

  • Cell refuseniks! While 85 percent of adult Americans have them now, some people still don't want cellphones. And they're not just stubborn old folks. A subset of people in, say, their 20s and 30s, who had cellphones have been getting rid of them. Even though it makes communication slower and less convenient, they say the sacrifice is worth it because they resent the disruption or want to save money or prefer handwritten letters or think gadgets prevent them from living in the moment. Will controlling one's own availability become the new status symbol? Social pressures will make that difficult, the article says. But since when is it cool to give in to peer pressure, people? (Hence, the need for a slow media movement to raise awareness and help people resist. Which leads to…)
  • The Tyranny of Email! You might have heard about this book, which was reviewed in the Times recently. The author, John Freeman, also had an essay in the Washington Post published under the rubric of "A Manifesto for Slow Communication." The gist of his argument: Compulsive emailing fosters a busy-ness and a numbness that detracts from leading a meaningful human life. Our time on earth is limited and we should use it more purposefully, which means slowing down. He notes the breakdown between work and personal life, the isolation from real-world places, the increased difficulty in reading slowly and listening and being idle and not fidgeting. His eloquent manifesto (which deserves to be appreciated in full) asserts, "This is not a sustainable way to live. This lifestyle of being
    constantly on causes emotional and physical burnout, work­place
    meltdowns, and unhappiness. How many of our most joyful memories have
    been created in front of a screen?"
  • How Not to Act Old! Like Freeman, this article on the workplace generation gap recommends that you stop sending e-mail — but for a totally different reason. It focuses on a new book arguing that people should avoid wearing watches, counting their change, or using landlines lest they look — and I quote from the subtitle here — "totally lame." Research shows that much of the generational divide arises from technology. While older people are still trying to catch up with Internet and cellphone use, younger people have already abandoned e-mail in favor of texting and Facebook, and they don't even listen to voice mails. (I also read somewhere recently that the average teenager sends and receives 50-70 texts every day. Yikes!)