Signs of slowness in Australia

Slowsign

With Australia in the news now, it reminded me of a lingering question: Why do people down under seem especially interested in Slow Media and Unplugging, compared to other countries? Not sure I can answer this, but please share any theories you might have!

There’s mounting evidence that Aussies are really into being Slow (guffaw). I’ve been tracking this matter closely and found five compelling indicators:

  • Richard Watson, a business strategist who writes for Fast Company and foresaw the credit crunch, predicted to The Australian newspaper that Unplugging would become a “watchword” as people started feeling too connected. The Sydney-based Brit envisioned digital diets and renewed interest in analog media such as fountain pens, wet-film photography and vinyl records.
  • Transformations Journal, edited by some great blokes at Southern Cross University and University of Queensland, recently devoted a whole issue to articles about Slow Media. If you’re interested in how this subculture originated, you can read my contribution here. There's a great piece on Facebook suicide, too.
  • The Australian Broadcasting Corporation aired an hour-long radio program in 2010 about the Slow Movement, with a big segment on Slow Media. On the show called Future Tense, reporters asked me how my college students react to their Unplugging assignments and interviewed Carl Honore (In Praise of Slowness) about Slow Food and Citta Slow.
  • Another article in The Australian dropped the term “Slow Media” into a 2010 story about media impatience with parliamentary independents who deliberate slowly. I don’t really see the connection between the two, but it’s interesting that they casually cite the idea and assume people will know what it means.
  • Susan Maushart, who just published a book fantastically entitled The Winter of Our Disconnect that chronicles how she and her three “totally wired” teenagers gave up technology for six months, lived in Western Australia for many years. She’s an NYU grad who lives in Long Island now, but she went back to Perth to write her book.

Someone once told me that going to Oz is like traveling back in time 50 years (she meant it in a good way–that Aussies are more trusting than Americans, and stuff like that). Maybe they're just behind the curve, or maybe they're ahead of the next one…

Going Offline: How to Become the Proverbial “Fish out of Water”

With three days to go before taking the red pill, it's probably a good time to sketch the contours of the Slow Media experiment that I'll be conducting until 2011. I've had these guidelines floating in my head for a while but haven't put them in writing until now.

My main priority is to escape the gift/curse of constant communication and infinite information, in order to 1) free up time to spend on other things, such as analog or material forms of media, and 2) enable some contemplation about the role of digital media in my life. To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, no one knows who discovered water, but it probably wasn't a fish.

The overarching scenario is that I'll adopt the media technologies of 1990, just before the Internet and cellphones began their ascent — which holds some rhetorical and romantic appeal (for me, at least) in being a tidy 20 years ago, at the dawn of my adulthood. Forgive me any accidental anachronisms but hey, I'm not a historian… yet. I'll be living largely in the less-connected spirit of that time.

This means: Any print is kosher — newspapers, magazines, books but no Kindles, iPads, e-books. I'll listen to vinyl records, audio-cassettes and CDs but not iPods and their kin. Watch cable TV and VHS but not DVR or DVDs. Use a typewriter or an offline computer for word-processing, statistical analysis and desktop publishing, but nothing networked or downloaded or "in the cloud." Make calls on a land-line phone but not a mobile one. Listen to terrestrial radio but not satellite or online broadcasts.

A few new habits that I envision picking up:

  • Going to libraries to borrow videotapes, instead of Netflix.
  • Sending letters, postcards or faxes and making phone calls, instead of writing e-mails.
  • Publishing a zine, instead of a blog. 
  • Going to more brick-and-mortar stores, instead of shopping online at Amazon, Craigslist, eBay or wherever.
  • Paying monthly bills with checks, instead of online bill-payer.
  • Calling my bank's teller-phone, instead of accessing my accounts on the Web. 
  • Using printed references like dictionaries, phone books and thesauri, instead of online resources.
  • Buying plane tickets through a travel agent, instead of Kayak.com or airline sites.
  • Checking the forecast in the newspaper or on the Weather Channel, instead of at Wunderground.com.
  • Visiting libraries to do research, instead of trawling online catalogs and electronic databases from home.
  • Looking up directions in a map or atlas, instead of Google maps or Mapquest.

When it comes to media technologies that other people use, I'm neutral. I appreciate that many friends, family and colleagues are eager and/or willing to cooperate with this Slow Media experiment of mine. But I won't direct them to do (or not do) anything for me that they wouldn't have normally done on their own. If someone uses a cellphone, I will talk to them on it. If a travel agent goes online to book my flight, so be it. If people providing me products or services require the Internet to do their jobs, que sera sera. Whatever they do behind the scenes essentially doesn't change my experience.

The few technological devices I'll still be using are probably better than whatever was
available back then, but I lack the time, money and inclination for
scouring garage sales and junk shops to build a rec room replete with
Betamax and Commodore Amiga — though I probably wouldn't resist a
princess phone or Atari 2600 if I stumbled upon one.

“Slow Foxtrot Media: One medium at a time”

A newspaper in Montreal recently ran this article contemplating Slow Media, or — as Babelfish has mysteriously rendered it — "Slow Foxtrot Media." (Maybe Babelfish is also psychic? I do like Wilco…). It's interesting, too, that "solitude" became "loneliness." Though I speak French real good, the Babelfish translation below is more fun than mine would be. I've cleaned up the English text in just a few places to improve clarity or accuracy.

By Nathalie Collard, La Presse

Some read the news on their
cellphone while driving, others cannot be prevented from checking their
emails at the restaurant or are straightforwardly unable to exist
without spending hours per week in front of their computer to sail
on social Twitter, Facebook and other media. In a world where the
multitask became the standard, and where our capacity to concentrate is reduced like peau de chagrin, a citizen movement is asserting a more moderate
and balanced consumption media. After the Slow Foxtrot Food, the Slow Foxtrot Media.

For one year, in her
course of journalism at Long Island University, Jennifer Rauch has
tried an experiment with her students. Initially, she proposes to them one
complete day without media. “For some, it is quasi insupportable,
tells Rauch, united by telephone. Several said to me that they had been
unable to do it until the end. Not to go online, not to use their
cellphone was beyond their power. They were afraid to miss something. Of
course, they were wrong.”

Rauch is a pionnière of the movement Slow Media which gains slowly
but surely followers a little everywhere in the world. The Slow Foxtrot
Media is neither antitechnology nor antimodernity, it is a movement
which wishes to draw attention to the frantic rate of our
consumption of the media and its perverse effects, and which asserts a
certain hygiene of life as to their use.

Continue reading ““Slow Foxtrot Media: One medium at a time””

Digital media and the 40-hour work week

Not long ago, Nina Lentini edited one daily newsletter, worked from 9 to 6 at home Monday through Friday, and enjoyed nights, weekends and holidays with her family. Now, she edits not only that publication but also 10 weekly newsletters, which means starting at 7:30 a.m., working weekends and holidays–sometimes until 11 p.m.–and having her daughter help by replying to business-related messages as they drive around in the car.

As Michael Winerip details in his New York Times story, these weekly newsletters are sources of additional ad revenue that cost her employer virtually nothing to produce, since they're published online, Lentini still gets the same salary, and the writers who contribute free stories to them get "paid" only in links to their own Websites.

Lentini accepts these working conditions because she's glad to have a satisfying job with a good salary, considering the current economic and cultural landscape. "Everybody works like this now," Lentini told Winerip. "This is just the new reality." The problem is, he notes, "she remembers the old reality."

Skepticism toward new media is often written off as a generational divide, that people who aren't "digital natives" are just resistant to change or just don't "get it." Maybe, in fact, we do get it… "It" being the fact that the new reality is not an unqualified improvement over the old one.

Continue reading “Digital media and the 40-hour work week”