Some half-formed thoughts I’ve had rattling around my head all day. This is partly prompted by a lot of the stuff I’ve been reading and listening to recently – I’ve kind of spiralled into a whole series of things about infrastructure and infrastructural concerns – and partly by a chat with a pal last night (over Facebook Messenger) which touched on discontent with the current social media landscape.
The problem, I think, is that we very much live in an era of Fast Internet – both infrastructurally and socially. Everything available all the time, always on, likes and retweets and reblogs and tumblr spats, Internet of things connected fridges badgering us with passive-aggressive updates because we haven’t bought fresh milk in a week (this last one may not yet be true but is not exactly a hundred miles off).
I was talking to someone in work the other day about the sense of guilt I feel over the unwatched stuff in my list on Netflix. There’s almost a sense of dread every time I open it up, because I know I’m going to deliberate for half an hour and then end up rewatching old episodes of Chuck or something.
It’s not just Netflix, either, I have “to listen” playlists of thousands of songs on Spotify, piles of Xbox games I’ve barely touched, a Kindle library full of books and magazines and articles I never quite get round to reading. Fast Internet has allowed me to turn my leisure time into work.
Very first world problem, so sad. I know, believe me.
But something on the podcast I was listening to (Gin & Innovation, highly recommended) on the bus today made me think about the things I actually look forward to getting. Newsletters, certain podcasts, certain blog posts.
Discrete chunks of dense information, delivered across glacial – by Fast Internet standards – intervals of time. Weeks of waiting for minutes or hours of focused consumption.
A silly phrase coalesced. Slow Internet.
I don’t have a proper definition for Slow Internet, yet. I’m not 100% I can define it. Like pornography, I know it when I see it. It’s not always technological – Slow Internet coexists with, shares structures with – Fast Internet. Time is a factor, but it can be hard to say how exactly – I’m tempted to say no more often than once per day, but there is bound to be an exception.
(There’s definitely an exception in the opposite direction – something like NPR’s All Songs Considered podcast feels very Fast Internet to me, despite the weekly release schedule).
There is definitely an overlap with the principles of Calm Technology
Slow Internet brings joy. Slow Internet is those notifications that excite and enthuse, rather than enervate and exhaust.
(Really, Slow Internet is only definable by what it is not. Slow Internet is not Fast Internet, is not part of the daily technological condition in which we all live)
All I really have at the moment is a list of the things that feel, to me, like Slow Internet:
Plain text newsletters, or those with very limited HTML, are generally Slow Internet (high volume mailing lists excluded).
Warren Ellis’ Orbital Operations – weekly updates on work, on reading, on living in South-East England
Deb Chachra’s Metafoundry – irregularly delivered chunks of thought on design, tech, infrastructure
More at Internet of Newsletters, although most seem to be dead (or perhaps in extended hibernation, as befits a true Slow Internet service).
Gin and Innovation – wonderful hour-long blocks of clever people talking in gentle English accents about technology, design and infrastructure. Seems to come out every two months or so.
Shut Up and Sit Down – Slow Internet is not entirely pompous and self-important. Very funny English blokes being funny and nice and interesting about boardgames. I think the release schedule is supposed to be monthly, but as far as I can tell this has never been accurate, which is very Slow Internet.
Radio Etiopia – music, mostly in the sort of ambient / soundscape / downbeat sort of field, although really all over the place. Seems to be released whenever they feel like it – sometimes a couple in one week, sometimes a month-long gap.
Philip Sandifer – More about content than speed of delivery, here. Particularly with regards to the Last War in Albion series of posts, covering essentially the entire history of British comics through the lens of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. I think it’s just hit the 100th 2000-word post. This is so not Fast Internet that it almost has to be Slow Internet
Adactio: Journal – daily 100 word posts, often on web design but just as often on living and working in Brighton.
MORNING, COMPUTER – occasional chunks of thought from Warren Ellis. Originally intended as a daily, first thing in the morning update, in true Slow Internet fashion the schedule slipped almost immediately.
Little Emma – really everything surrounding BERG’s Little Printer is Slow Internet, but this particular hack caught me. Prints (or printed, probably no longer in existence), a daily update on the current position of Emma Maersk, at that time the largest container ship in the world.
I am old and very tired and not even making a huge amount of sense to myself any more. This jumble of thought may come together into something semi-coherent later, but I needed to get it out of my head.
(Little Emma was the thing that kicked off this entire ridiculous exercise.)
(The running joke throughout the episode about the First Church of Intermodal Shipping will have to wait)