Using Tech to Slow Down Our Lives in 2013

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We are emerging from the annual internet and social media “gray period” – the holiday fortnight when the web isn’t blacked out, but slows down. It’s always a welcome relief from the incessant typing.

Present Shock
For our first New Tech City show of 2013, I interviewed media theorist Doug Rushkoff. His latest book (out in March) is called Present Shock.

You may have heard of Future Shock, the book from the 1970s, in which Alvin Toffler postulated that our lives were changing so fast we would soon lose the ability to cope. Well, Rushkoff says that future is now. In our always-on NOW world, we have a changed relationship to time, with no “sense of a future, of goals, of direction at all,” he says.

He has some ideas for getting back in touch with the cycle of life, not just your email box: listen to the full interview on iTunes or here.

Slow Web Movement?
My interview with Rushkoff made me want to know more about the idea of the Slow Web. I don’t think it can be quite classified as a movement yet, but a nice blog post by entrepreneur Jack Cheng spells out the concept:

“Timely not real-time. Rhythm not random. Moderation not excess. Knowledge not information. These are a few of the many characteristics of the Slow Web. It’s not so much a checklist as a feeling, one of being at greater ease with the web-enabled products and services in our lives.”

After the horror of Newtown, I certainly struggled to keep churning out blog posts, update my Twitter feed. If life is fleeting, what is a Facebook update? This all leads back to my theory that social media was created because of our fear of death and my own vaguely fatalist tendencies…but that’s a post for another day.

Apps Are For Slowing Down
It’s kind of ironic that there are now digital tools to help you moderate your relationship to time and tech, but hey, it’s 2013:

  • Walter Chen’s iDoneThis sends you an email at the end of every day, summing up what you accomplished.
  • Self-Control lets you block online distractions so you can concentrate.
  • Oh Life (which I’ve been using) emails you every night, inviting you to respond with a reflection on the day.

Slow News
Meanwhile, there have been some mutterings over the past several years about a Slow News movement. Scholar Jennifer Rauch has been blogging at Slow Media since 2009 but there are some recent mainstream examples:

  • Huffington for iPad recently launched, claiming to be the “slow” way of reading the best of The Huffington Post.
  • The Atlantic converted the best of their 2012 blog posts into a free ebook.
  • The New York Times had a big hit last month with its multimedia project Snowfall, a piece that invites real exploration not just a quick skim. The Times also just signed a deal with (my publisher) Vook to produce dozens of ebooks this year.

Tech As a Coping Mechanism
Part of my own addiction to all things digital is, of course, the instant gratification…but there are also times when it’s easier to think up another pithy tweet than ponder the cycle of life. My sister and I used to greet each other with the phrase, "Oh, the humanity," after arriving home from a packed subway ride and a long day in the city. But why have deep, existentialist thoughts when you can fill your 25-minute commute on the A train with Angry Birds?