What is slow media? To answer this question, it is easier for us to start with another question – what is a “fast media?”
First and foremost, let’s think about fast food and what we associated with the fast food culture. Fast, convenient, efficient, time-saving… Yes, these are part of the story! But at the same time this culture is also associated with “lack of nutrition,” “obesity,” “unknown ingredients and production process,” “oligopoly of certain companies,” etc.
Although not fully parallel, the fast food characteristics are similar to those of the “fast media.” In the modern society, we have taken the acceleration of media practices and processes for granted. More importantly, a lot of us consider it as a favourable change. Neither in this article nor in my project am I going to discriminate the fast media, but I am here to point out some of the problems.
Fast media, like fast food, is a product under the pursuit of efficiency and, undeniably, profits, which are also the two main focus in modern consumer capitalism economy. To explain in simple language, the more you can produce or transact in a set amount of time, the more you can profit you can make from it. For example, in the commercialized news industry, journalists are hired and provided deadlines and pressure from the top to create these products. The efficiency in news production and immediate response are the default requirement to ensure a company’s competitiveness and profitability. However, what could often be sacrificed is the correctness, quality, and even the morality in news production, broadcast, and consumption.At the end, the commercialized media industry produced not only products with lower quality but also overly powerful capitalists with the monopoly (or oligopoly) of information and the powerless consumers struggling to digest the “fast food.”
This top-down relationship between the producers and consumers is what we called the hierarchy of information which involves the commodification of contents, labour, and audience (through advertisement). This hierarchy might have been familiar to most of us since the Classic political economy period introduced by scholars like Adam Smith. However, to create this kind of relationship in the field of media can be problematic when we ask ourselves the questions – Who shall be the producer, broadcaster, and consumers of media? Are these roles really exclusive to each other? What could go wrong when production becomes exclusive of the voice of the consumers?
Another way to explain the impact of fast media is when the speed and efficiency become the demand of consumers. For example, since the emergence of email, we have gradually given up on the use of actual postal services. We are often looking for faster and more instant media to help us complete the tasks without knowing what is missed in the process. This time, quality does not necessarily mean the quality of the content transacted but the quality and meaning within the transaction. Here I want to raise another question? Do human interaction and relationship actually become closer when we become capable of more transacting and communication practice at a set amount of time? Sadly, the answer is often “no.” We are stuck in the culture of multitasking. Communication becomes frustration. But we become more and more relied on the fast media to complete the task we were able to complete with slower speed but more emotions and involvement in the process.
Slow Media, therefore, is like the Thanksgiving meal made by your family. It might take hours to prepare but you know the ingredients are from your garden or local markets. The food is made with your grandparents’ recipes. And you are not sitting there to request a fast meal but an enjoyable time with family members. Slow media, based on the 14 characteristics stated in the Slow Media Manifesto, emphasizes the quality, the relations and interaction between humans, the coexistence of the producer and consumer roles (the “prosumer”), and local alternatives. For example, a locally run student news paper that reflects campus life bi-weekly, the use of notebooks and pens to replace laptops in the classroom, or keeping a hand-written journal instead of posting on Facebook or blogging. The use of slow media, in my opinion, is not aim to replace the current technologies or social norms. Instead, it should be more about experience and realization to add more humanity into media practice.
In my Slow Map Challenge, I challenge the use of digital maps such as the Google Map and the GPS. I argue that with the use of this “fast media” we forget how to travel slowly. We rely on apps like Google Map to remember our travel history, to research and navigate, to report ratings or reflections from people we do not know. Aren’t we losing something in this process? What can be changed if we choose to put down this advance technology and experience the road ourselves?
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