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…

2 thoughts on “Signs of slowness in Australia

  1. hi Jennifer
    I can’t, obviously, speak on behalf of the whole nation. But I do think there is a direct relationship between the rise of slow media, and the increasing stress caused by the internet-isation of every-bloody-thing.
    So contrary to your friend who told you that Australia is backward, it could be the opposite – a backlash against being too forward?
    I’ve heard said (where?) that Australians are very eager to adopt new technologies. Which means nearly everyone has at least one i-Thing, which they are constantly checking and pecking with their index fingers poking away.
    But this early adoption is not something that we’re uncomplicatedly pleased about – perhaps more a sign of anxiety – a sense that if we don’t keep up, we’ll miss out on something important.
    At least three high-up Australian university professors I know have said almost exactly the same thing, unprovoked: “the main thing i do as part of my job is to send and receive emails”.
    It’s almost unnecessary to say that they find this state of affairs frustrating.
    Which made me think of the crappy meme “what people think i do versus what i actually do”:
    http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/what-people-think-i-do-what-i-really-do
    none of this really helps you with your quest to probe our national psyche.
    why don’t you travel here, by bicycle and rowboat, foraging roadside weeds along the way, with your paper maps, and find out for yourself!
    when you arrive, i’ll get you to do a guest workshop with our media arts students.

  2. You’ve shared a lot of intriguing ideas here, Lucas… First, I’ll note that my friend thought Australia was backward in a good way — as in: not all change is progress, sometimes modernization means losses as well as gains.
    You’re right that I should visit and probe the national psyche for myself! Though I’m pretty handy with maps, so don’t assume that I’ll wind up in the weeds 🙂
    What school are you affiliated with? Your profs are spot on about the time spent e-mailing… People falsely believe profs only work 6 hrs/wk (e.g. when in classes), and I spend at least double or triple that just keeping up with e-mail — not to mention teaching and grading and preparing lectures and going to meetings and furnishing reports, then doing research and writing and publishing and attending conferences in my “spare” time. Surely there’s a What-They-Think meme on this!
    If I had a job with lots of downtime sitting at a computer (a.k.a. bored at work syndrome), I’d probably love Facebook as a pastime. But as it is, FB, Twitter, et al. would take up sparse leisure time when I’d rather be doing other things, away from screens.
    So, back to Australia: I was talking yesterday with another colleague acquainted with your fair continent who suggested that some Aussies take a stand against technology as a way to defend the uniqueness of their culture, and that geographic isolation empowered them to do this more adamantly than, say, Europeans seem to.
    Another idea was that the Australian economy is doing pretty well and people aren’t afraid for their livelihoods, as in the U.S. and Europe where people feel like they can’t resist the culture of digital overwork and must stay connected and responsive in order to keep their jobs (or to market/brand/promote themselves online in order to get a job, or jockey for a better one). Think there’s any truth to these theories?

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