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.
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.
One 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.
Some 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?”
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.
Inspired by Slow Food, a lot of people—including me—have suggested that it’s better for our brains, bodies and society when we read, communicate, and get the news at a more sustainable pace. Slow values transformed how many of us make, buy and consume food. Could slowness improve our information and entertainment ecosystems, too? Here are some key conversations about adding a dose of slowness to your mediated life.
- “Move Over Slow Food: Introducing Slow Media” by Elissa Altman, HuffPost.
- “Time for a Slow-Word Movement” by Trevor Butterworth, Forbes.
- “The Slow Media Manifesto” by Sabria David, Jorg Blumtritt and Benedikt Kohler, Slow Media Institut.
- “Not So Fast: A Manifesto for Slow Communication” by John Freeman, Wall Street Journal.
- “Slow Journalism: Why Doesn’t the UK Have a Culture of Serious Non-fiction Like the U.S.?” by Susan Greenberg, Prospect.
- “The Slow News Movement” by Arianna Huffington, HuffPost.
- “A Slow-Books Manifesto: Read Books. As Often as You Can. Mostly Classics” by Maura Kelly, The Atlantic.
- “The Art of Slow Reading” by Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian.
- “Reading, Fast and Slow” by Jessica Love, The American Scholar.
- “After Shirley Sherrod, Time for the Slow-Blogging Movement” by Ruth Marcus, The Washington Post.
- “After Brightbart and Shirley Sherrod, We Need a Slow-News Movement” by Walter Shapiro, Politics Daily.
Here's a clever flow chart that explores the socio-psychological motivations of checking your e-mail. (Props to graphic artist Wendy MacNaughton for making this and other great illustrations.)