Slow News Days

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I recently watched Paul Salopek’s talk from the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference: The Story and the Algorithm. He’s a peculiar fellow with plenty of idiosyncrasies to boot. Soft spoken and hoarse, he paced around the stage while reading from a stack of stapled papers to an audience that strained to hear him. He was a stark contrast to the bombasters who preceded him, yet it was all so appropriate for the topic at hand: slow journalism.

Taking inspiration from the slow food movement, Salopek advocates the slowing down of our tendencies to overshare our lives. We have so many ways to tell stories these days that we inflate news feeds with minutia–from photos of our food to passive-aggressive tweets about things that irk us. We have so many outlets that we have begun abusing the media that make it possible to share our lives in meaningful ways.

Don’t get me wrong. I completely acknowledge the value of being able to instantaneously share my newfound obsession with the BBC series Dr. Who at the exact moment that I realized that I loved the show. (I immediately received reactions via tweet and text message from the same friends who have been trying to convert me into a fan for the past two years.) The 21st century is an amazing and important time for technology. Like Salopek, though, I fear that our hyperconnectivity with others attenuates the connection we have with ourselves.

Salopek chooses to endorse his slow news movement by walking (yes, walking) across various continents while inviting his audience to follow along online as he documents this journey. He calls it a “collective walk into the future.” It’s undeniably experimental, and I’m still dubious as to whether or not it is going to make a big enough impact to affect a large-scale change in technology. However, it’s worth thinking about. I realize that I’m guilty of inflating the importance of everyday trifles, so I welcome this shift in thinking.

I’m not about to start any cross-continent treks, so don’t get your hopes up. What I’m going to try is a social media diet. No Twitter, no FourSquare, no Instagram, no Facebook for a few days. These instantaneous methods of sharing take away from being in the moment itself, and they take away from the time we have with the people we share these moments with. I’m invoking the days of old in which photo uploads happened AFTER the fact and blog posts (or dare I say it–xanga entries) were fully thought-out reactions to life instead of impulsive comments that we push out the proverbial (though technologically advanced) door.

Technology provides so many ways to tell stories, construct our identities, and share our lives with each other. Let’s not diminish our attention spans, shorten our tempers, and cheapen the process of learning about ourselves along the way.

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