“Slow Media” asks quality over quantity

I recently attended a client summit in Berlin and had the opportunity to meet renowned European Media Consultant and Researcher, Joerg Blumtritt. With his peers Sabria David and Benedikt Koehler, Joerg developed the Slow Media Manifesto. Taking a page from the Slow Food Movement, Slow Media offers a new take on the ever-more overwhelming media universe we live in; key is quality over quantity in our media production and consumption. I sat down for an email chat with Joerg to find out more about the roots of Slow Media, and what it means for advertisers, brands, and consumers.

Lab: What is slow media and why does it matter now?

JB: Slow Media is about taking care: to carefully spend your time, not to waste it with media consumption that is  not worthwhile, and – even more important – to take responsibility in creating media that gives value to people’s life.

Slow Media should be shaped and produced thoroughly, and distributed more by recommendation than by advertising. For years there has been an argument going on between the evangelists of the Internet, on the one hand, and the flock of believers in the blessings of traditional media. While the first group sees all problems of politics and economy being saved by everybody being enabled to participate, the latter group fears the loss of control over the Internet could lead the world to anarchy. Thus both sides focus only on media as a channel and not on the fact that media should contain something valuable or have some good effect. We think this argument is futile.

At the end of the last decade, the technological infrastructure of the Net became stable enough and more and more transparent to the users, and in many societies, a large number of people had developed basic digital literacy. So digital technology and culture was able to support a next step: to get the “reactions of this media revolution (and) to be developed and integrated politically, culturally and socially” (quoted from the Slow Media Manifesto). Slow Media gives a set of criteria and collects examples of what such valuable media could look like.

Lab: Is slow media focused on the consumer or advertisers or brands?

JB: Slow Media is focused on media producers – including advertisers and brands – and also on the reception-side. Especially the 8th point of the manifesto could be used as a guideline for Slow Advertising: respect your users!

Lab: Who first developed the concept of “slow media?

JB: Actually, we do not know who coined the term. The oldest quotations that we found go back to the 1950s. But Jaquces Delors, then president of the European Commission, was the first to use Slow Media in our sense -as far as I know. For some years now, the concept of Slow Media has been appearing on blogs, mainly in the US. But we were not aware of Slow Media being around for so long, when we wrote the Slow Media Manifesto on this year’s New Year’s Day on EtherPad.com (…long gone).

Lab: As an advertising professional, did slow media seem to contradict your understanding of media—or further it?

JB: When I was working for a print publisher it occurred to me that the editors there would never question, if their creation would be worth the paper it was printed on. They took for granted that printed media would always be quality media.

On the other hand, I always felt sorry that online advertising never seemed to reflect the great quality and richness of its carrier. But recently that has changed with the rise of Social Media. Now we see storytelling becoming a major means of promoting brands, we see brands really going into dialogue with their users, and so on.

Of course not every communication has to become Slow Media – but anyone in charge of a brand should consider, if the means of communication chosen to advertise, in fact represents the value of the brand. In think marketing often sells brands below their value!

Lab: What reaction has the “Slow Media” initiative inspired?

JB: The reaction was highly polarised: Many journalists embraced our Manifesto (it was quoted and discussed in nearly every newspaper in Germany). On the other side, many apologetic of the new media hype regarded us as Luddites or even traitors. Particularly the social media consultancy bunch expressed how they felt let down by us.

What surprised me was how fast and widespread our texts were received internationally: within days, there was a French translation, within weeks two different translation into Russian appeared, then Italian, Spanish, Korean and so on. I think, Slow Media ideas have become a distinct voice in the discussion on the future of media.

Lab: Any backlash?

JB: The tone of some rants fired against us surprised me. Even some people I have known for years reacted as I though had insulted them.

Lab: The slow media manifesto you crafted mentions “monotasking.” Is that even possible or desirable in today’s world? And what about the advent of synchronized media experiences where publishers are taking advantage of our multi-tasking behaviours to provide richer content experiences ( say an iPad that syncs to a program on TV and provides other, interactive content experiences to the user that build on the primary content)?

JB: “Monotasking” we choose exactly because it is the opposite of multitasking. Monotasking in the context of Slow Media means concentration–the opposite of distraction. Of course you can’t always be concentrated and attentive. Entertainment and distraction have their own rights.

However, Multitasking comes always with less depth, less intensity. If you choose several options at one time, you are never fully aware of the aspects of the very situation you are in. If you sit in the subway, listen to your mp3-player and read emails at the same time, each of these three tasks may not seem to be so demanding that they could not be done all at once. But the shallowness of all three actions does not add up to depth. At least from time to time it is worthwhile to experience such low-action moments as waiting for a train or sitting in the subway without jumping on the next distraction available.

By this willing abandon of distraction, Slow Media share some aspects with Lent. Lent is not hunger – it is first becoming conscious of food and what it adds to our life. Of course, becoming conscious of media requires not only a concentrated mind of the user, but also media products that makes it worthwhile to concentrate on.

Lab: We are excited for our clients to go out and do brave work—even when it fails or requires risk taking. If slow media is focused on “perfection” what will that mean for the necessary risks required in producing for emerging media channels?

JB: We regard Slow Media as in permanent beta, not getting released as final but getting permanently improved, iteration after iteration. Not every emerging channel is worth jumping on. Some however are so strong and capable, that you may drop all other communication. I know many brands and ventures  find social media perfectly sufficient; but obviously they would never have known this if they would not have tried (or been forced to try by their agency).

What I would expect from my agency is to judge, and to choose without compromise. To take and maintain a clear position is much bolder then to try everything available.

Lab: Last question. For a slow media guy, what does our media future look like? Or what should it look like?

JB: Technically I see two main developments. First, content management. Platforms like WordPress or Mediawiki make publishing even high quality content very easy. Together with open APIs and by using GUI enabled applications, this will continue for the next few years. The second trend is the “Internet of Things” – more and more real-world items are getting a digital identity, being locatable and cross-referenced through huge databases. The use of QR-codes to provide completely individualised information for every visitor, gives a glimpse of how things might look. Of course, both trends get fuelled by mobile broadband and the growth of smartphone adoption.

On a more abstract level, I see the end of the “grand narrative” as the major aspect of media, as well as of art of the future. The myth of the individual author/creator – respectively ingenious journalist – is corrupted by the availability of resources and information which at the same time kill the experience of progress – despite the fast evolution of technology.

So, I think we see three main trends:

– Eclecticism, collage, bricolage, punk, mashup and the like; that is taking cultural fragments and regrouping them into something not-so-new

– “Favela chic” (in Bruce Sterling’s words); that is aggregating contributions of great numbers of people; “wisdom of the crowd”; “wikipedism” but also algorithmic content like search engines

– (Re)tribalisation; small narratives, myths, legends, small talk, shared among a small community of loosely tied individuals, often told in the special language of their group. People restrict their options voluntarily.

Slow Media is thus a concept to preserve some of the virtues of “good old media” into this new, really postmodern culture with its fuddy-duddy relativism. Even if Slow Media is also just another small narrative, its about continuing to strive for better.

For more on “Slow Media: