Back online, somewhat ambivalently


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.

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 or airline sites.
  • Checking the forecast in the newspaper or on the Weather Channel, instead of at
  • 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.

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
    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.
    really is the simple things in life that make us the happiest (…) It was
    great chance for my sister and I to hang out and just be teenagers all
    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”

The Slow Media Project Got Harder


A view of my iGoogle home page on my new all-in-one iMac (left) versus the same page on my old Dell laptop (right).


Maybe I don't like digital media. Then again, maybe I just didn't like MY digital media.

Readers of this blog have already laid eyes upon the device I carry that passes for a cellphone, which will no longer enable the "walk-and-talk" or receive unsolicited texts once I start the Slow Media Project next month and replace it with a landline.

What you might not know is that last year, when I hatched this plan of going offline, I was using the crummy laptop pictured above as my primary computer. It's a miracle I got anything done on that thing, yet alone five years of work, including the vast majority of my dissertation.

Behold, however, my shiny new computer: a 24-inch iMac with beautiful resolution, a wireless mouse and 1TB of memory. I will miss it dearly — including, but not limited to, the Netflix that it beams into my home (soon to be replaced with basic cable).

People are usually surprised to hear that I do in fact love many aspects of digital media. But really, wouldn't the project be uninteresting if I hated the Internet? Then there would be no challenge, no sacrifice. It would be like me giving up sardines or pickles for Lent.

“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””