More Student Reactions to Slow Media

A few months ago, the students in my Media & Culture class spent some time engaging with Slow Media and then reflecting on their experiences. Why? Because I made them!

This assignment was motivated by the fact that they had found it difficult to stick with the Digital Detox for one whole day. Detox focuses on what you can't do, creating a void in which students got bored and time passed slowly. Instead of presenting the experiment as a negative — "you can't go online or use your cellphone" — I reconceived it as a positive: You have an opportunity now to devote a few hours to entertaining yourself with the analog "devices" of your choice.

An earlier post described the surprising reactions of students who played musical instruments, wrote in journals, watched videotapes and practiced calligraphy for their Slow Media Experiment. The surprising part, for me, was how nostalgic these 19-to-23-year-olds felt for activities that they enjoyed and made time for just a few years ago — activities that have been pushed aside, in part, by the increasing demands of cellphones and computers.

Here are more extracts from their essays, where one student calls her experiment "the weirdest three hours I have ever had" and another says she feels freer when untethered from a computer:

  • The first part of my experiment was doing pottery for my
    Introduction to the Potters’ Wheel class. I was either on the wheel making, or
    trying to make, new pieces, trimming the feet for pieces that were already
    finished, or glazing them. The first couple of weeks had me worrying about how
    I would do in this class; I never seemed to make anything good and it got me
    really frustrated. I turned out to be one of my favorite classes I’ve taken
    during my entire time in college. I think that it being not the typical class
    with desks or computers makes it better and gives you more freedom.
  • I chose to listen to vinyl records because my parents collect
    them and own a record player, but I’ve never actually listened to any of
    them.
    I felt this desire to dust them off and play the Beatles the
    old-fashioned way.
    When I listened to [them] for the first time, I couldn’t help but smile.
    It
    really is the simple things in life that make us the happiest (…) It was
    a
    great chance for my sister and I to hang out and just be teenagers all
    over
    again. We felt like a couple of rock’n’roll kids from the sixties. I
    felt as
    though I really bonded with my sister through it.

Continue reading “More Student Reactions to Slow Media”

ISO: Electric Dreams from the Beeb

Does anyone know where to get copies of BBC television programs that aren't being marketed on DVD? I'm eager to acquire "Electric Dreams," this British reality TV show about a family that moves forward through time, living in different decades and using historically appropriate technologies from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Sort of like PBS's "Frontier House" but dynamic and, well, electric.

The producers are pretty obsessive about vintage gadgets but there's also an interesting focus on how media technologies affect family life. They wonder: Has technological progress always been for the better? Spoiler alert! Depends on who you ask. The parents seem to enjoy the experiment more than the kids…

You can watch segments of it on YouTube (as above) but I'd like a complete, intact version of it that I can hold in my hands because — as the attentive reader of this blog might have noticed — I am the kind of person who likes to hold media products in my hands. The person who finds a copy for me gets a free subscription to my blog!

“The weirdest three hours I ever spent,” student says

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that students in my Mass Media & Culture class were ambivalent toward my critique of digital communication and my nostalgia for analog alternatives. After all, they're members of the "Millennial Generation" (which doesn't even consider e-mailing or texting to be "writing," according to this Pew survey) and I'm just a digital immigrant.

So color me surprised when many of them got sentimental in their reports on the Slow Media Experiment! In this assignment, students spent three hours engaged with analog media or other non-digital entertainments of their choice — such as watching VHS tapes, keeping written journals, playing musical instruments, listening to vinyl records and audio-cassettes, painting, sketching, making ceramics, etc.

As  it happens, many of these college students missed middle-school-era activities that had been pushed aside as their lives got busier (in part due to increasing digital communication). Here's a small sampling of their responses to the experiment:

  • I chose to write in my journal because it is something that
    I used to do every night when I was growing up and haven’t done since middle
    school. I’ve always felt too busy or tired to sit down and write out my
    thoughts after a full day at school or whatever it was that filled up my day.
    Eventually I forgot about doing it all together. This assignment gave me a
    reason to do it again after four years. When I was a kid, writing in my journal
    was a special, almost sacred part of my day. It was a chance to be alone with
    my thoughts. It felt so easy and relaxing. Writing in a diary is something
    truly unique, and there is no digital alternative that can fully capture the
    experience. There is something to be said for sitting down in a comfortable,
    quiet place and writing out slowly and deliberately your every thought and
    feeling.

  • First I practiced calligraphy, an art class that I am taking
    in school. It's non-Western calligraphy, so we
    have been practicing Arabic calligraphic work, which is very interesting. I
    used a pen and ink to practice Arabic letters such as the S, L, J and B. The
    advantage of doing these activities was that it caused me to be really engrossed
    in what I was doing and I wasn’t really concerned with my cellphone or who
    might be trying to reach me at the moment. Doing art was very therapeutic. I don’t
    believe that you can recreate art with digital media tools.

Continue reading ““The weirdest three hours I ever spent,” student says”

The rotary phone: Now, that’s *really* slow media

Sometimes, when people react to my Slow Media project, they make me feel like the grumpy old duffer in this video, who thinks all the whippersnappers nowadays "care more about being modern than about getting three square meals."

He's irritated by the prospect of his home getting one of those new-fangled dial phones. Why, his old device is only thirty years old, and it works perfectly fine! Who needs a dial anyway, when there's an operator to connect your call? (Think of all the jobs killed by dial phones; they must be like the ATMs of telephony.)

This appears to be part of a series on "Modern Wonders" such as the record player, electric stove, and reel-to-reel tape. I'm not sure what year this was, maybe around 1930. The whole 10-minute clip is devoted to dial phones, and that's just Part 1. The second part spends another 10 minutes showing grandpa how to — wait for it — dial his own phone.

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?”