The Slow Web Movement
September 6, 2012 8:31 AM   Subscribe

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.
posted by Foci for Analysis (36 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I'll post a comment on this tomorrow. Need to think carefully about what I'll say.
posted by rh at 8:38 AM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think people are going to be looking at ways to reduce exposure to the Internet but also increase the usefulness of it. Seems to be what this essay is about. How do you get the most out of the Internet with the least amount of time on it.
posted by stbalbach at 8:50 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Although I liked the essay, "slow web" takes me back to "dialup days." I wasn't old enough to be in a completely pre-internet era, so I don't see dialup as a praiseworthy move up from complete web-lessness. Nope, it is just pain and frustration that can now be forgotten.
posted by subversiveasset at 8:58 AM on September 6, 2012

The Slow Web Movement is a lot like the Slow Food Movement

Next we'll have a movement where you only read web pages from servers located within a hundred miles.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:00 AM on September 6, 2012 [30 favorites]

I started a blog. It's not public (yet). Each post will be what was going on today in my life, but each post won't go live for 5 or 6 years from now. It's not even public facing yet.

I've thought of creating a site where people could write an essay of where they see themselves in 5 years and I'd not publish these until that time.

I love the idea of the slow web. I've been part of this movement for well over 4 years.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:01 AM on September 6, 2012 [9 favorites]

Thanks for this.

I'm generally in favour of this (I do not have a smart phone, tablet, etc.; I have a minimal FB account that I do not check; I frequent wifi-free cafes; and so on) and am looking for ways to reduce my Web engagement further (Metafilter excluded, of course). So there are some interesting pointers here.
posted by carter at 9:11 AM on September 6, 2012

Interesting link, but I'd point out that libraries/librarians have been a "slow web" for quite some time, adopting many of the principles stated in the OP. We're the "fast web" when we can/should be, too.
posted by Rykey at 9:16 AM on September 6, 2012

Isn't the original slow web... a book?
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:24 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

This reminds me of my first real years on the Internet. I lived in Bulgaria right after the changes and our computer usage was mainly for emails. Our server (at a university) was dial up and went through Austria. Email could take up to a day to get to the US.

No one had computers at home- we used internet cafes or the university connection. I guess this sounds a little like "when I was a kid we had to hike ten miles and build our own computers out of cardboard boxes and rusty barbed wire" but life really was a little less a constant checking in online.
Interesting article and worth thinking about...
posted by Isadorady at 9:35 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some of the services he mentions don't seem to be so much about the slow web as they do about incorporating yet more information into the already busy "fast web." Why do I need Timehop? How does Timehop fit into the slow web paradigm? I guess, as Cheng says, it allows you to reflect on the past, but I still see it as more information (i.e., fast web) rather than more knowledge (i.e., slow web). Just because it's giving you year-old information doesn't mean that it is "slow web."
posted by asnider at 9:36 AM on September 6, 2012

This reminds me that I want to set up a daily digest of my Twitter feed.

(Maybe it will be done when I wake up.)
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 9:37 AM on September 6, 2012

This is very much how I use Metafilter (and I assume others do as well) - I let those who are passionate about evaluating, commenting on, and explicating the referred subjects dive in and come up with opinions, then use those opinions as a first line of evaluation. Kind of a first derivative of whether this is something I'd like to care about or not. This has saved me from countless scams, hoaxes and later-discredited trends without providing web traffic to hucksters or being able to become more expert in the diverse set of fields required to really understand a subject. Of course, when topics arise on which I have some expertise, I try and do the same for the community - slow web may not necessarily be about real time, just about non-knee-jerk.

Second, I was contemplating this morning regarding coverage of the various conventions by taped-ahead shows like The Daily Show. First, I was thinking "damn, I wish they would just cover it live - wouldn't that be more fun?" then thought about it for a bit. Actually, that would go against the subversive message they have been succeeding at for a while: it takes encyclopedic knowledge and conversational virtuosity to ably process and present news in real-time with any quality - without that digestion any reaction to it simply cannot consider the greater context in a way that yields knowledge, reducing the discourse to a verbal fantasy football game. They choose to take some time to find the funny - and at the same time, often douse with damning context lines which would otherwise just slip through into the national consciousness.

I've often wished for (or hoped to invent) a service that time-delays news, politics, even commercials then rebroadcasts them with an overlay or markup putting into context the claims they make. Literally a denominator for every numerator ("Over 24,000 people die of this every year!" Is that out of 25,000 or 1 million? In how big an area? Is that number going up, down, largely the same, etc? The source of that number, what other numbers do they provide on other topics and how reliable are those?). I'd offer this as a news-channel aggregator where you could filter your sources to those with a verifiability above a certain threshold. Sure, not only numerical, would need help from something more like politifact; the result would be highly subject to spam, abuse, misuse, censorship, and so on - but as a primary source, as a means to try to focus my attention on stuff that emphatically isn't fluff, it's something I wish I had because every time I hear an unqualified number or claim in the news, in rhetoric, even in commercials I long for that context.

But, with all that off-the-cuff tl;dr reaction out, I'll go check out the article and see if my guesses are close to its premise.
posted by abulafa at 9:38 AM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

I used to suck up all the RSS feeds and information glut that I could, peaking in 2006-2007, then moved out of SF/Bay Area/USA to Asia, starting my first series of work in developing countries. That distance and the subsequent explosion online of noise drowning out the signals led me to withdraw. This thread and the FPP resonate with me.

I, like others, let MetaFilter and my minimal Twitter stream, curate my information for me.
posted by infini at 9:54 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Why do I need Timehop? How does Timehop fit into the slow web paradigm? I guess, as Cheng says, it allows you to reflect on the past, but I still see it as more information (i.e., fast web) rather than more knowledge (i.e., slow web). Just because it's giving you year-old information doesn't mean that it is "slow web."
The thing I got out of that was the conclusion he reached - letting you understand when you're spending time badly. Say you notice you were working on the same dumb problem a year ago, or it's a problem that has since been solved in a way you read about but forgot until you were reminded you could take advantage of that new approach.

I might phrase my interpretation of "The Slow Web" as focusing on context - time context, informational context, asynchronizing the units of information so they can become artifacts capable of acquiring context before they are presented as consumable.
posted by abulafa at 9:54 AM on September 6, 2012

Most of this strikes me as looking for a technological replacement for personal responsibility, discipline, and wisdom. It's also rather fitting that this came up so soon after the "email ban" thread. In both cases, if we're relying on outside means to avoid being constantly distracted or wasting time on inconsequential crap, we're not learning how to manage our time and attention better. We're not growing as individuals, gaining maturity.

That said, most people never seem to attain that sort of balance with OR without the Internet, email (or TV, for that matter), or deliberate throttling thereof, so...I guess my two cents is that such things may be useful to some individuals, and more power to them; but attempting to turn it into a larger social movement that "should" apply to everyone is probably not going to make us better in the long run, any more than Prohibition taught people not to drink too much alcohol.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:59 AM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

I like the general concept, which as described in the article is pretty specific, but I think it could be rolled up into that same old signal/noise concern that lots of people have always had. If it helps to codify that into some kind of web-specific movement I'm ok with that too.

I remember back in 2007 I did some content writing for a Home Theater blog. I met the blog owner at his house and he was showing me all of his "productivity" stuff that he was into. He had loads and loads of websites and crap that he was constantly checking and refreshing and all this and I remember thinking "oh my. I don't want to turn into this person." So I started disengaging way back then, too (it helped that our first kid was born shortly after that).
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:04 AM on September 6, 2012

Most of this strikes me as looking for a technological replacement for personal responsibility, discipline, and wisdom.

I think it's about acknowledging that since we cannot completely remove tech from our lives, we should at least use tech in more wise and healthy ways, e.g. removing or slowing down the stream of information.

I keep thinking that there has to be a scientifically proven method/program/approach/whatever through which you can dampen negative behavioral patterns and strengthen positive ones without resorting to tech all the time. I would pay good money to be able to truly focus and dedicate myself to things that matter to me and not constantly "multi task" between work and Mefi/Reddit/HN all the time. The Internet is such a mind killer.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:18 AM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

I dislike the line of argumentation that describes stuff like this as a technological crutch to replace for personal discipline / wisdom / what have you. There's a couple of reasons for this: first, the article author quite insightfully notes that at least one of the productivity tools he uses (budge) is specifically designed to help you develop good habits, and that once you've boosted yourself toward better habits with it, you tend to stop using the tool. But more significantly I think it's useful to think of wisdom, personal responsibility, good habits and the like as being just generally things that we develop through our tools. It's not like there's our soul over here, being responsible or irresponsible, and technology over there, being inert. Our tools play a meaningful role in who we are and who we become, and we can become different people by establishing different rhythms and different behaviors using different tools.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:25 AM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Metafilter very much does this for me, but I disagree with the characterization that it is a technological thing. Metafilter is a community, one mediated by technology, sure, but primarily a group of people who like to show each other interesting things and discuss them. The topic becomes a point of departure for analysis and comment that's often as interesting as the original item.

There's wisdom in the slow web idea, but it's wisdom from community, from posters, contributors and moderators. It's enabled by technology, but not of technology.
posted by bonehead at 10:31 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Aaah, people who take their writing style from the worst excesses of the NYT or New Yorker lifestyle sections.

Talk about yourself, establish yourself as one in the know by careful namedropping, only then get on to the nominal subject.

Shitty writing for a shitty concept. Fitting.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:45 AM on September 6, 2012

Rejected slogans: the slow web: for slow people.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:47 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Timely not real-time.

Platitudes not solutions.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:48 AM on September 6, 2012

Pithy, not wise.
posted by infini at 10:49 AM on September 6, 2012

It's just another marketeer seeking a niche; if it takes off, and it's just the right amount of pandering to the audience and contrariness to be successful, look for it at a TEDx talk near you soon.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:50 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, is there anything more annoying and patronising than some company deciding their image is going to be all folksy, as in his first example?
posted by MartinWisse at 10:51 AM on September 6, 2012

I started a blog. It's not public (yet).

I have a blog. You haven't heard of it.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:54 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bear with me, but this is apparently the thread that's gelled all the things that bug me about my industry into ideas I can put into words.

It's tempting for me to demand to understand "Well then how does budge make any money?" Not that that is born of living through a number of startups and a focus on a technology-business value model.

That value-proposition question is a great way to end debate. In fact, some of the neater ideas that bounce around in my head relate to gamification of beneficial behaviors - for yourself, for your environment, your economy, whatever. As you'd expect, the opportunity for misuse is huge, but imagine being able to set your own goal (from weight loss to energy consumption to learning Sanskrit) and have a community to help you with exactly the nudges and goals which are most motivating to you - cowclicker for flow activities. That is, hack the very feedback mechanisms that prove so effective in getting millions of people to click a cow to, instead, build up behaviors you want - either personally or as a society.

Why is this important? Because there's less immediate money in a slow web. Or at least nowhere near as much money as there is in selling ads around things that draw quantifiable numbers of eyeballs. And that's why things that sell stuff tend to get more funding - basically, if you invent a technology to make the job of a marketer easier or appear more effective, you can write your own check. Google sell ads with ever-improved targeting - they are wealthy as a result; nearly all their technology is a means to that end. I don't begrudge them that, but I wonder if there's a way to acknowledge that the market-driven economy of marketing-enablers has limits. That is, if some ideas - like bettering behavior around community-driven context, like improving the level of discourse, education and understanding in the media - can take a shot at a market-driven value proposition but then land more softly. Consider if Budge can never monetize the thing they're doing - no ads to sell, no pageviews to quantify, no way to convince a market that they're worth something - but to their users, to their 'graduates' who have changed their behavior using the service (yes, I'm projecting into a utopian future here), their value is huge.

What if it were easy to land softly - keep your ideas, keep your service viable and contributing, but reincorporate as a non-profit, retain your IP (perhaps under more open terms, defense only, etc.) but escape the... forgive me... life/death cycle of value-proposition-or-die?

I raise the question because I could never imagine a way to really make much money with the slow-webby yearnings I've considered. Sure, maybe subscriptions, maybe other kinds of crowd-sized economies, but suppose you have things you love that help your life but take so much time to insinuate themselves into our day-to-day that they will never exhibit the hockey-stick that keeps new technologies afloat long enough to catch on.

I guess I'm trying to imagine a framework for keeping good ideas alive even if they don't make money right away. An ecosystem where transforming from a for-profit startup to a non-profit foundation is a planned, natural cycle such that good ideas and the technology (and technologists) that implement it can continue to grow in a planned way that doesn't require the next person with a clever asynchronization idea to start from scratch (both in terms of tech and user base).

Because this is the kind of economy where the slow web notions might flourish - or just be possible.

On preview, I'm unconvinced that the hate on the 'marketing term' is justified - sometimes annoying startups luck into a zeitgeist that needed a title. Enough of this resonated with me that every technology and owner in that article can disappear and the notion that there may be value outside the urgent persists.
posted by abulafa at 11:00 AM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

We just upgraded to IE 7.

Firefox, Safari, Chrome? Unsupported.

Mac virtual login? Unsupported.

Social Media? Blocked.

Slow Web is so yesterday.
posted by stormpooper at 11:52 AM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nah. I'm backing the Sparse Web.

Because someday people will laugh at the thought that EVERYTHING was saved. Oh, and laugh at stretching a one-paragraph idea into two pages of rambling.

It's like saving all the books. When I arrived at college, the dorm had a library room. It had shelves full of the books that nobody who'd lived there in decades helped themselves to. When everything gets saved, the stuff worth keeping gets lost.
posted by Twang at 12:00 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

he was showing me all of his "productivity" stuff that he was into. He had loads and loads of websites and crap that he was constantly checking and refreshing and all this and I remember thinking "oh my. I don't want to turn into this person."

I used to be that guy. I quickly realized that all of the time I was spending reading productivity blogs was time that could have been better spent actually being productive.
posted by asnider at 12:21 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

At this point, I think the slower an interaction is, (any: Including web interactions and pre-web interactions) the more profoundity and significance it assumes in the eyes of the receiver of that action.

For example snail mail. You want to rock someone's world with gravitas? Send them a handwritten letter through the mail..
posted by Skygazer at 12:30 PM on September 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is great. Now I just need to convert my customers, co-workers, bosses, and everyone else I interact with to it.

With this and with the e-mail thread downstream a bit from here, and with every other article about how technology is pureeing our brains and sucking them up in little tubes, I say: pah. I started my career a few years before e-mail was a thing, at least in my world, and while there are differences due to my age and the kinds of responsibilities I had when I was younger, I'd say people drove, rode, and walked home from work every day with the same kind of feeling like they'd been in a mental car accident as they do now. Back then the constant interruptions were phone calls and faxes (remember those!?). You might have more oasises (oasisis? oasi?) of distraction free time because of going to lunch without a cell phone, but there were also more times when you couldn't leave your desk because some trivial phone call had to be waited out.

What's changed is not technology. What's changed (to the limited extent it actually has) is increasing expectations of doing more stuff with less time, and that's driven by economics.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:40 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Och jesus. I read the first paragraph. I liked it so much. Then I read some more. And there comes the anxiety. Losing weight. Flossing. To-do lists. Stilted sentences. Suggesting profundity. "A feeling of being at greater ease with the web-enabled products and services in our lives"? The aspiration is more suffocating and oppressive than the problem.
posted by deo rei at 4:07 PM on September 6, 2012

...and just to rise above the drive-by snark a little, what grates me here is the confusion of cause and effect. The implied argument - regardless of the hullabaloo about reversing consumption and production - is that if you do this in such and such fashion, then that will make you feel better. But in fact, you need to begin feeling better before you begin doing the things you want to do in the way you want to do them.
posted by deo rei at 4:27 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I opened this ready to snark (even though I've long been a proponent of the Slow movement) but I think this is an important set of ideas about the next evolution of the web and our other ubiquitous, overwhelming, and filterless information streams, and what its next phase - the more useful, less buried-in-the-weeds phase - will look like.

you need to begin feeling better before you begin doing the things you want to do in the way you want to do them.

I don't follow this logic. In every case in which I've made a positive change in my life, it was because I felt bad, and wanted to feel better.
posted by Miko at 5:57 AM on September 7, 2012

I detest sort of writing, name dropping, "in the know", windbaggery which takes forever to get to the point then you realise there really is no point. Many years ago, Disraeli said of Gladstone that he was "inebriated by the exuberance of his own verbosity", much the same could be said of this stuff. If being slow is supposed to bestow clarity it hasn't worked in this case.
posted by epo at 6:56 AM on September 8, 2012

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