Hold that Thought

Re-thinking Slow Media

I had an idea the other day, a way to encapsulate the ethos of this project. As one is wont to do now, I ran a quick Google search to see if anyone had beaten me to the punch. I found this: Slow Media.

At first glance it seemed promising, but then I read the manifesto and felt an overwhelming sense of disappointment.

The manifesto analyzed:

"1. Slow Media are a contribution to sustainability." This feels like little more than some obligatory green-washing. It doesn't really speak to what so-called Slow Media are in and of themselves, to why it is that they offer something superior to the relentless acceleration of media in general.

"2. Slow media promote Monotasking." This is probably the most important stipulation, and where I agree with them the most. I am a little puzzled as to why it doesn't just say "slow media demand total attention." Perhaps it is simply a matter of translation, but I am more than a little wary of a term such as Monotasking. It smells of defeat. Have we so readily conceded to the universality of multi-tasking in all facets of life such that it is the norm from which to be distinguished?

"3. Slow Media aim at perfection. Slow Media do not necessarily represent new developments on the market. More important is the continuous improvement of reliable user interfaces that are robust, accessible and perfectly tailored to the media usage habits of the people."


"4. Slow Media make quality palpable. Slow Media measure themselves in production, appearance and content against high standards of quality and stand out from their fast-paced and short-lived counterparts - by some premium interface or by an aesthetically inspiring design."

What I find curious about these statements is that they imply the existence of standards, be they aesthetic or ergonomic. This is all fine and good. But as later line-items seem to suggest, Slow Media are firmly on the side of the "people" in their progressive emancipation from any such standards.

Specifically: "5. Slow Media advance Prosumers, i.e. people who actively define what and how they want to consume and produce."

It kind of goes downhill after this.

"6. Slow Media are discursive and dialogic. They long for a counterpart with whom they may come in contact."

"7. Slow Media are Social Media. Vibrant communities or tribes constitute around Slow Media...Thus Slow Media propagate diversity and respect cultural and distinctive local features."

One of my favourites: "8. Slow Media respect their users. Slow Media approach their users in a self-conscious and amicable way and have a good idea about the complexity or irony their users can handle. Slow Media neither look down on their users nor approach them in a submissive way."

"9. Slow Media are distributed via recommendations not advertising." This is a bit questionable if the source of the recommendation doesn't matter, a necessary consequence of the extreme discursive diversity of the Slow media conglomerate.

"10. Slow Media are timeless: Slow Media are long-lived and appear fresh even after years or decades." I think it goes without saying that if the people advocating longevity use a decade as the upper range of measurement, there's a bigger problem.

"11. Slow Media are auratic: Slow Media emanate a special aura." Wow. Just wow.

"12. Slow Media are progressive not reactionary: Slow Media are not a contradiction to the speed and simultaneousness of Twitter, Blogs or Social Networks but are an attitude and a way of making use of them." Indeed it would appear that Slow Media are not a contradiction to anything at all. This is perhaps the most glaring problem presented by this movement. Nobody who seriously examines the role of technology in shaping our world can argue that technology is neutral. This is a commonplace error that would be laughable if it didn't have such serious implications.

That media are not neutral, or at least that their increasingly sophisticated forms are the manifestation of a specific development, is evidenced by this manifesto itself. Look at the way it describes the user group, the homogenous mass of people identical in their vibrant diversity. At one point there is even the suggestion that the ever increasing growth of "information" will soon draw all experience safely into the gaping maw of cultural studies, to be chewed into a slurry of content.

My disappointment with this manifesto isn't just that it seems to justify itself with appeals to the unquestionable dogmatic goods of post-modern culture. It's that it claims to be something that it is not. There is no stated purpose.

Why Slow Media? If, auras and self-help aside, we take it to be at heart an emphasis on a more involved thoughtful experience, or Monotasking as they call it, then we still lack any sense of the benefit such singular focus might confer. Instead there is merely an emphasis on interaction and dynamism, a thinly veiled love of efficiency, and this is what bothers me most. If your Slow Media movement makes you speak like a computer, you've missed the point.

You can read the full thing on the website if you are really so inclined. There are a couple of other stipulations, one a passing reference to making sure the content is good, and the other a reminder that there are real people at work behind Slow Media, as opposed to the faceless drones who drive mainstream culture.

The content of the blog is varied and more or less what you would expect, a mix of tech current affairs and classical tidbits. One recent post stood out. It addressed the origin of the word "idiot," an individual in the ancient Greek polis who was only concerned with his own household as opposed to the affairs proper to citizens.

Off the top of my head I'd suggest that a justification for Slow Media can begin to be drawn out of even this example. Multi-tasking makes you an idiot. Specifically, the multi-tasking of social media, of texting during conversations, limits the possibility of a more profound awareness of anything beyond one's self.

To the multi-tasker, life appears an endless stream of sights and sounds which cannot be held long enough in sight to be subject to thorough reflection. Flexibility becomes privileged over memory. This is where the idiot triumphs, the one for whom the only constant is himself.

If we are witnessing a kind of generational wave of political apathy, it should not be said that this is due to a lack of information. Instead perhaps we should consider just how exhausting media saturation is, the demands it places on the human mind to contort itself in strange new ways. This isn't about gleaning a fresh perspective, it's more like being stamped into a mold.

Not to digress too greatly, I think the argument can be made for a Slow Net ethos. Slow Net is arrogant and unwieldy, unabashedly difficult to navigate and "access." Slow Net takes pains to limit the tempering of its content by the medium itself, while acknowledging that this is impossible.

Slow Net has no aura, it doesn't care about you, it isn't listening. In this sense it is entirely reactionary, but realistically so. There can be no return to the age of print, but that doesn't make cyberspace better. This doesn't offer the makings of a very inspirational manifesto. That's the point.