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Marketplace Morning Report

A slow media movement

Marketplace Staff Nov 17, 2009
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Kai Ryssdal: It is possible, in this day and age, to stay in touch 24 hours a day if you so choose. Or, if you’d care to look at it another way, cell phones and laptops and Blackberrys have made it almost impossible to disconnect. Try as we might, it is just hard to ignore all those e-mails and text messages and phone calls. So it’s no wonder a lot of us are overwhelmed. But Sally Herships may have found an answer.


SALLY HERSHIPS: Every night my boyfriend brings his iPhone to bed. And his Blackberry. Did I mention the laptop?

HERSHIPS: It’s 5:45, and my boyfriend’s phone just rang.

BOYFRIEND: It was somebody from work.

HERSHIPS: And you answered it?

BOYFRIEND: I did.

This, to put it mildly, doesn’t make me happy. I’m trying not to take it personally. My boyfriend is a journalist and a news junkie. And it’s not like he needs an excuse to stay wired all the time. Connected is the new normal.

That drives Jenny Rauch nuts. Rauch is a journalism professor in New York, and she’s what you might call old school.

JENNY RAUCH: I’ve tried telling my friends, I don’t text. I don’t have a text plan. Every time you send me a text message it costs me 15 cents.

It’s not the money that gets Rauch. It’s the expectations. She says people who are totally wired expect everyone else to be, too. Rauch doesn’t want to feel pressured to answer e-mails on Saturdays. She wants her time back.

RAUCH: Something has to go. And the thing that has to go is the digital media.

Rauch is planning to go all the way. Next year, she’ll set the clock back to 1985.

RAUCH: There will be television.

But no DVR.

RAUCH: A land-line.

But no cell phones.

RAUCH: Records.

There’s a movement for people like Rauch. It’s called Slow Media. Kinda like slow food, but without the food. Slowies write letters, and, you know, talk to each other, offline. They like to do one thing at a time.

Nick Jones is a computer programmer who lives in North Carolina. He has a Slow Media group — on Facebook. Jones gets the irony. But he knows the downside of multitasking.

NICK JONES: Sometimes I would have the British Office, it would be like, on mute and running and then there’s a song playing and then there’s me writing code, and it was just too much, it was like trying to drink from a fire hose, it just wasn’t — it didn’t work. Thanks, high-speed Internet.

But what does work, especially at work? Can you really get away with slowing down?

Tom Jackson, also known as Dr. E-mail, teaches information science in England. He says technology isn’t the problem. It’s the way we use it.

TOM JACKSON: The majority of employees react to incoming e-mail within six seconds. Now, most people have their e-mail applications set up to check for new e-mail every five minutes.

Jackson says every time you’re distracted by an e-mail, it takes about a minute to get back to what you were doing. All that time adds up, the average employee spends almost 800 hours a year just reading e-mail, that’s not including recovery time.

Eric Bradlow is a professor of interactive media at Wharton. He says even if we took technology away, we’d still have a problem.

ERIC BRADLOW: So I’ll go back to the old days, I’ll walk around to the water cooler, and I’ll sit there chatting with people. I think people will replace one form of distraction with another.

Bradlow says certain types of people, like him, and my boyfriend, want to be connected 24-7. And that can be a good thing for employers. Bradlow says people who spend a lot of time in social media tend to be high achievers.

And Jenny Rauch, the journalism professor, and Nick Jones, the computer programmer, do want to stay connected. They’re both blogging about their new approach to media, slowly.

I’m Sally Herships for Marketplace.

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