Suitably Slow: My Nine-Year Quest to Publish “Slow Media”

“Congrats, I can imagine that getting a book out to the world is quite a process!” That’s the kind of thing people have been saying a lot since Slow Media: Why Slow is Satisfying, Sustainable & Smart was finally released by Oxford University Press in September.

Folks, you have no idea.

The journey started in 2009, when I started pondering the possibilities of a less mediated life and searching for a Slow Media movement, as recounted in my Slow Media blog and on NPR’s Marketplace. Soon I was in the midst of the six-month Slow Media experiment, where I pretended it was 1989. (You can hear about my life without digital media in this audio story at Medium.com.)

Fast forward a couple of years, and I had an offer from an independent “print-on-demand” publisher to release an earlier version of this book. I declined because I didn’t feel confident signing a contract without representation. So I got an agent and spent a year working with her to develop a proposal. Yikes! She couldn’t sell it.

By 2013, I’m doubting the whole project and persuading myself that the world doesn’t need another book. It’s not like you get rich or famous in academic publishing, right? Not to mention the irony of having spent years of my life typing at a computer to spread the message that we should all spend less time staring at screens. On the backburner it goes.

Meanwhile, I write a couple of things about Slow Media for scholarly audiences: tracing the origins of the idea for an article in the journal Transformations and analyzing why slowness is a form of cultural resistance for a chapter in The Routledge Companion Alternative and Community Media.

The fact that people from all over the world keep reaching out to discuss Slow Media convinces me it’s worth another shot. To wit, I did some interviews with Radio National in Australia, La Presse of Montreal, Les Clés de la Presse in France, and Daily Beast in the U.S., among others. I’m ultimately glad to have let the project steep for a few years; my ideas evolved and the book is deeper and richer for having waited.

I’ve shared this timeline to demystify the process, especially for those of you who happen to be nurturing an unpublished book. I sent the proposal for Slow Media to a few academic publishers on my own in 2016 and had some offers, including from Oxford. Working with them was an amazing experience, although not without delays. It took around 32 months from contract to release.

Moral of the story: Slow and steady wins the race.

 

Getting Gratification: Delayed and Belated

Issue No. 30 of a quarterly. That means almost eight years of publication. Good on you, mates.

My new issue of Delayed Gratification just arrived, and it’s gorgeous. As you can see (below), the packaging is almost as pretty as the magazine.

I’ve been talking about this publication’s contribution to Slow Journalism for a few years. It’s hard to find hard copies in the U.S. outside of big cities, though. I had never held an issue in my hands before going to a Slow News summit at the University of Oregon this summer. I have finally, belatedly subscribed.

One of DG’s editors, Matthew Lee, talked about the Slow paradigm shift that people like us are nudging forward. Journalists from the local daily paper and alternative newsweekly also participated in the summit, as well as several scholars, educators and students.

The summit was organized by UO professor Peter Laufer, a Polk Award-winning investigative reporter and author of the vital book Organic: A Journalist’s Quest to Discover the Truth about Food Labels. He explores what “organic” really means and whether products thus marketed really live up to the promise. It sent me scurrying to the pantry with a big Sharpie, to see how my nuts, rice, cereal and beans fared.

The Italian producers of a documentary about Slow News recorded the event for posterity. (I’ll write more about that next year when IK Produzioni releases the film.)

Gosh, this is just the envelope.

What makes DG “Slow,” you ask? The gist of their mission is: the editors wait three months to cover all the news from the previous quarter. Then, they put together a comprehensive summary and analysis of everything important and interesting that happened. With benefit of hindsight, they can help you understand what mattered and why.

Instead of following the news in a piecemeal fashion and being swamped with breaking news that lacks context, you can get the big picture from a trustworthy source. You could virtually ignore the news for months — skipping all the dubious or fake stuff — and still be comprehensively informed.

Designed Gratification is tactile, ad-free and built to last, with original artwork, beautiful photography and their famous infographics. (Just noticed that I accidentally typed “designed” gratification there instead of “delayed.” Freudian.) These publications are not planned for obsolescence, e.g. to become tomorrow’s trash.

Hope this doesn’t sound too swoon-y. I just get excited about groovy print projects like this. My curiosity is also piqued by Slightly Foxed, another quarterly British magazine with a similar vibe as DG and a more literary focus.

It was Eight Years Ago…

Starting in July 2011, I went offline and shunned digital media for six months — just as an experiment, to see what it was like (after having given up my cellphone six months previously). I road-tripped from Denver through the Southwest and Pacific Coast to Seattle. I got engaged in Sonoma, the first “Slow City” in the U.S., and planned a wedding at an antebellum mansion on Staten Island. In other words,  I got by perfectly fine, with only a few quasi-crises during which a networked device seemed essential. (More stories about my unplugging experience are shared on Medium, HuffPost and the SlowMedia blog). Could I do it again today? Honestly, probably not.

Moleskine Journaling by Students

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The assignment for my Slow Media class: Carry a journal with you for one week. Write or draw whatever you want in it. Just think of something to fill every page before submitting it.  To get warmed up to the idea of journal-keeping, we read and discussed  articles about the Moleskine revival.

P1050883One student found friends admiring her journal and saying that they had one, too. She had never heard of Moleskines before and started noticing them everywhere. By contrast, another student said people mistook his journal for a passport and wondered why he carried it around with him.

“I saw a girl on the train (probably in her 20s) carrying a big bag of VHS tapes,” one wrote. It made her smile because in the previous day’s class we had been talking about the extinction of videocassettes. “Oh, how the world works!”

Some of them opted to sketch and doodle; some were less creative. Keep in mind that these weren’t art or communication majors; many of them were pursing Pharmacy degrees and studying a lot of organic chemistry.

P1050847Some of them shared quotes that had caught their attention, like this one from computer designer and software publisher Adam Osborne: “People think computers will keep them from making mistakes. They’re wrong. With computers you make mistakes faster.”

Some of my students shared personal thoughts about their relationships with technology, other people and themselves; others were less reflective. Most of them enjoyed the project; a few less so. The author of this journal (below) considered the journal a burden. On another page, he implored, “Facebook, why are you so terribly distracting?”

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The Slow Art of Printmaking

During my year of living slowly, I took a printmaking class with the lovely and talented Hilary Lorenz of Stone Trigger Press. Hilary’s work shares many themes with my own. She creates installations that juxtapose wilderness with urban contexts, often with linoleum block prints that celebrate the beautiful textures of birds and other animals.

In that class, I made a series of “Gadget” prints exploring the awkward interplay of digital media and human bodies. In these images (like the ones above and below), I wanted to highlight the physical discomfort and psychic alienation of simultaneously interacting with real and virtual worlds. I hope that interplay stays awkward.