The Case for the Slow Internet
by Jennifer Proctor — University of Michigan-Dearborn
September 05, 2011 – 00:00
On April 1st of this year, NPR aired this spoof story about the latest online trend: the Slow Internet. While the feature pokes fun at an improbable hipster movement complete with a song from OK Go sampled from dial-up days, it touches on the oft-criticized nature of the web as a source of attention deficit, poor multitasking, and bite-sized media consumption.
Recent online works – especially long-form interactive documentaries – challenge this approach to Internet use. Rather than a sub-three-minute, one-stop experience, these projects demand time – repeated visits that enable a gradual unfolding of the narrative. They ask us to seek unexpected connections and to allow our own curiosity to serve as a guiding principle. These works are less like an article to be read in a sitting, and more like a book that is picked up and set down over days or even months.
Viewers are accustomed to such extended consumption with serial narratives on TV; certainly shows like The Wire function as a kind of single-channel branching narrative. And video games employ long-term, goal-oriented narrative immersion. A trickle of long-form literary platforms is emerging. But users seldom approach online video experiences in this way.
The Slow Food movement describes its philosophy as one that is about reclaiming the pleasure of growing, cooking, and eating in a world dominated by speed. It’s about rethinking our ethical relationship to food in accordance with local interests and community enjoyment. It asks us to rethink our relationship to what we consume in a way that demands distraction-free attention.
A Slow Internet can similarly reframe users’ internet consumption habits. We need to think about using the web for storytelling in a way that encourages long-term attention as a means for developing a relationship with people and issues that are important to us, and that does so in a way that embraces the positive dynamics of video gameplay and TV narrative without sacrificing the pleasures of the slow.