The Movement for Slow Media

We live in a strange bubble; a universe inhabited by media experts, all of whom by definition are interested in new technology and the latest bright shiny object. This can be very misleading, which is why it’s always a good idea to spend some of your time when you’re out and about observing people’s media behaviour. Normal people; real people.

Today I travelled on the train, and the London underground. I noticed many people using their phones to play games, check their emails or play music. I saw no-one with a tablet. I saw a very large number reading the Metro (a free London paper) in its printed guise. Was I observing a representative group? No of course not. Are the findings scientific? No again.

But they are interesting (and I should say I travel in this way a lot and what I see pretty well every day is largely the same) in that they do I think point up the differences between the way we all like to think people behave, and the way they actually do.

To very many people (and you’ll notice how I skirt around the issue of actually quoting numbers) the paper version of a newspaper is a desirable, convenient thing. The same is true of TV. TV viewing increases because watching TV is actually a relaxing and pleasurable experience. Can I hook up my laptop and/or tablet to my TV? Yes I can. Can I be bothered? No.

Last week I read an interesting piece by John Carroll, a Senior Director at the research agency IPSOS Mori. In it John was extolling the benefits, the real pleasure he gets from reading a physical newspaper. In fact he had he said cancelled his tablet subscription in order to reinstate the paper version.

I feel the same way. To me, reading a newspaper over breakfast is a pleasure. Dividing the sections up between us means we can both read what we want in the order we want, and we can discuss what stories we’ve enjoyed. Reading the same content online of course brings benefits, such as regular updates and the like but it is a different, more personal, more isolated and isolating experience. Not better, not worse just different.

There seems to be a default human condition that we can somehow only accept one version of something whilst taking a perverse pleasure in running down all alternatives. It was the same with food a few years ago. Everything had to be fast, rushed, and highly convenient. And yet as the movement for slow food pointed out there is great pleasure to be had from taking the time to enjoy a meal lovingly prepared and served. Fast food has its place but it’s not the only show in town.

So it is with media. We are lucky enough to live in a media age of massive choice, and of technological wizardry. It’s brilliant to be able to catch up with the cricket scores on my phone whenever and wherever I want. It’s wonderful to be able to share photos instantly with friends and family on the other side of the world. But it’s also wonderful to sit quietly with a cup of tea and wallow in excellent journalism in a format that just suits the moment.

There is no right or wrong; no traditional and new age. Every media form has its place and its role. No one form is enhanced by diminishing, or running down the other option. Consumers, real people understand this instinctively and use different media, different platforms at different times and for different things. Next time you’re on the train or the tube look up from your phone for just a few seconds and you’ll see what I mean.

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