A third of Americans still resisting Facebook

Jenna Wortham might be a kindred spirit. As a tech reporter at the NY Times, she's written about young people who are indifferent to or critical of digital media… Voila, her latest: Shunning Facebook and Living to Tell About It. She also cites a Pew finding that 16 percent of the U.S. population doesn't have cellphones. 

A companion piece at the Times' Learning Network asked student readers whether they would ever quit Facebook. Many responded that they had never joined Facebook, rarely logged on to the site, considered deleting their accounts all the time, only used social media for work, etc. Some said that Facebook was "getting creepier every day" or just "a drama site."  (Below: Infographic courtesy of The New York Times)

 

20111214-biz-FACEBOOK-graphic-articleInline

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…

Slow Media Movement coalescing into brick-and-mortar

Centerforslowmedia

I haven’t been posting much since I went back online nine months ago, because I’m still trying to keep a lid on my Internet use. But sometimes there's big news in the Slow Media world that’s worth sharing, so I’ll make occasional exceptions.

Like this one: It was exciting to see a center devoted to Slow Media spring up… even though it’s 1,031 miles from New York City, so I probably won’t get there any time soon. It sounds like the kind of thing that you’d see in Bushwick or other arts-oriented neighborhoods: a big old industrial space where people work together to build an alternative culture.

In this case, it’s a combination used bookstore-artisanal baker-piano repair/tuning service-and-book designer/letterpress printer/custom picture framer united under the auspices of a “Driftless Center for Slow Media” at the evocatively named Forgotten Works Warehouse in Viroqua, Wisconsin.

The center aims to encourage and celebrate "intentional, thoughtfully crafted and homespun media," according to its website. Looks like a beautiful old building where they host zine exhibits, Bloomsday readings, old-time music, events honoring Lorem Ipsum, and the occasional record party or vaudeville show. I’ll check it out, the next time I'm passing through Viroqua on my way from Romance to Viola.

Have you ever had a “Melonballer Moment”?

Sally Herships of NPR’s Marketplace coined a great phrase in this broadcast, which aired in February: Melonballer Moments, referring to the time you unintentionally waste doing online research to make trivial decisions. Being able to access scads of information about quotidian purchases is great, in theory… but when there’s so little at stake, how much time do you really want to spend reading user reviews about melonballers or whatnot? 

The story marked my going back online this January, after avoiding the Internet since last July. I had challenged myself to unplug from the Web for six months and give up my cellphone for a year. (I just started using one again last month, and even got a new one—though it’s a cheap, dumb clamshell.  I sometimes consider getting a smarter phone but still resist, for now!)

Somewhat inaccurately, the subtitle describes my offline project as a ‘chore,’ when for the most part I loved it. There were some frustrations, sure, but I was thrilled by the challenge of finding workarounds for device dependency. And I found myself in some bizarre, humorous situations:

  • throwing rocks at a friends’ third-floor window when her doorbell didn’t work, since I couldn’t call to let her know I was there. In retrospect, I would have set off my car alarm to get her attention;
  • hunting for payphones in New York City, which is easier than you probably think—though you need to get in the habit of memorizing or writing down in advance any phone numbers that you might need later;
  • wandering up and down a city block at midnight, unable to find a New Year’s Eve party because my fiancé didn’t know the address and assumed he would be able to look it up on his cellphone, which he had forgotten at home;
  • waiting patiently for a clerk to print out a “Wines of the Month” list from her shop’s website when she could have shown them to me… on a “Wines of the Month” shelf only 20 feet away from us. Turned out, her computer printout listed the wrong wines, too.

With only three minutes to tell the story, Herships doesn’t get into the background of why I went offline and what Slow Media means in the context of a new subculture of people who practice similar rituals like “Digital Detox” and “Unplugging” and “Internet Sabbaths.”

My search for a wedding dress, especially, resonated with her—perhaps because she also had recently begun shopping for one? I hazard to guess that she loves kittens, too.

Back online, somewhat ambivalently

Roll1022ed

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.