Greywell Road image via Sebastian Ballard
The Slow Food Movement taught us to reject the creep of fast food and industrial food production so that we can rediscover and reclaim the pleasures of traditional food and cooking.
The Slow Web Movement aims to do the same for the internet.
The Slow Web isn’t a longing for dial-up.
Don’t let the name fool you; nobody wants to slow down your internet connection or take away your smartphone. The movement wants to keep the speed and efficiency of technological gains but find the human rhythm within it that allows for authentic personal connections and deeper engagement with content.
Just as fast food fills us with empty calories, the Fast Web is feeding us the fat, carbs, and sugar of the internet.
It serves up clickable lists and slideshows, infographics and timelines that target our basest appetites for gossip, scandal, eye candy, and stupid pet tricks. It’s short and sweet and goes down easily but is hardly a full meal.
The Fast Web also fuels its own feeding frenzy.
Think of how a communication exchange used to work. Information was provided in something like real time by the media or shared by someone in your circle. Maybe the interaction allowed for some give-and-take—questions, clarification, and the like—but your response could usually be held until you were ready to release it. You would exit real time for an hour or a day or a week when you could reflect and reconsider before formulating a response and committing it to a letter, a conversation, a phone call, or an email.
The Fast Web shrinks the feedback loop down to a nanosecond.
Online responses follow hot on the heels of real time, and if you don’t keep up you’re out of the loop. There’s no time to ponder but who needs to when communication is reduced to smiley faces, LOLs and WTFs? Have a question? That’s what FAQs are for. Craving more interaction? Then click it, pin it, like it, tweet it, or share it.
The How Much Information? project from the Global Information Industry Center found that in 2009 we typically confronted around 100,000 words on screens and 34 gigabytes of information every day. While it’s the most recent study of its kind, it comes from a era when we still thought ‘apps’ meant cheese and crackers and the world had yet to discover Instagram, Pinterest, and the iPad; no doubt our consumption is even greater today.The abbreviated feedback loop of automated algorithms and canned responses is all we have to keep us from drowning in a sea of data.
The Slow Web Movement is concerned with the ways that this erodes our attention spans and devalues our online interactions. We consume vast quantities of information but do so in an endless stream of insubstantial snippets. It all lacks depth and heft, context and analysis. We can’t possibly devote the time to ponder and noodle; to put something down and return to it later with fresh eyes and insights. All of the clips and snippets and soundbites will always be information and never become knowledge.
The founding Manifesto of the Slow Food Movement was written as a call to “defend ourselves against the universal madness of ‘the fast life’… against those who confuse efficiency with frenzy...” It calls ‘the fast life’ a virus that “fractures our customs and assails us even in our own homes.” Substitute Facebook for a McDonald’s hamburger and it’s clear that cyberculture is infected with the same virus. It’s also easy to see why the Slow Web Movement has latched onto food as their model: just as with food, we need to restore communication and human interaction to their former positions as cornerstones of pleasure, culture, and community.
The movement is young, but there’s a groundswell of support.
The Slow Web Movement is explained more fully in the classic TED Talk In Praise of Slowness; it was a featured topic at this year’s SXSW Interactive Festival; and even one of the Fast Web’s big winners, Arianna Huffington, has been stumping for the movement, advocating for a slower, more substantive news cycle.
Does this whet your appetite for more than the junk food diet of internet memes and viral videos?
You can get a taste of the Slow Web by downloading the Instapaper app and installing a read-it-later bookmark, and then loading it up with articles from Longreads, a collection of the best longform writing from current issues of publications like The New Yorker, GQ, The New York Times, Gawker, The Believer, Vanity Fair, and anything else that catches the editor’s eye.