I've been referring to my pending experiment as a digital media fast, or something like that. I'm thinking, though, that terms like "abstinence," "avoidance" and "fast" focus too much on what's lost instead of calling attention to what's gained. Namely, the time to pursue a host of other things. It's been a long time since I read a novel... or practiced Chinese calligraphy... or baked a pear pie... or used my watercolor set... or went hiking on the Appalachian trail.
So why not a "Slow Media diet"? This phrase captures the idea of a regimen that excludes many convenient things, but includes many better things that involve some effort and imagination. It could be like giving up Cosi and making your own sandwiches or having one at a friend's house, instead -- to stretch the food metaphor perhaps a bit too far.
I imagine that for purposes of the experiment, I'll pretend that it's 1989 (one of my formative years, naturally) and permit myself to use whatever media were available in that communication environment of two decades ago. This includes landlines, faxes, printed newspapers and magazines, books, radio, VHS tapes, records and cassettes, television (provided its still broadcast), etc. -- along with anything unmediated. Still a lot of details to work out here regarding how to define and delimit digital media, a tricky task since they've encroached on every facet of our lives.
As for the timeframe: I initially thought I would do this for just a month, maybe over the summer break when it would be easier to "clear my plate" of work obligations that require computer use. Lately, I've been talking to some people who urge me to be more ambitious and give up digital media for a year (easy for them to say! Maybe they enjoy the prospect of living vicariously through me).
But really, the year-long "lifestyle experiment" has become pretty standard in our culture. A year in Provence. A year of living dangerously, and also of living biblically (that guy A.J. Jacobs has single-handedly built a cottage industry of doing odd things and keeping diaries). There's the woman that didn't buy anything for a year, the family that didn't use toilet paper for a year, and the woman who cooked Julia Child every day for a year (leading to a book, movie, and long Netflix queue for The French Chef). I wonder just how closely they hewed to their own rules.
Could I avoid using any cellphones, computers or other digital media for a whole year? Could you?
I'm also toying with the idea of excluding sources of not only entertainment but also information (e.g. news radio and papers), to investigate the concepts of information "glut," "overload" or "data smog" as well as the theories that "There are few political, social or personal problems that arise because of insufficient information" (Neil Postman) and that we live in a "Cult of Information" (Theodore Roszak).
Hard as it might be to live without digital music and digital videos, though, it would be even more difficult to foresake The New York Times and National Public Radio. A year without news? For a journalism professor and lifelong news junkie? That would be setting an ironic challenge for myself.