People are very serious about what they eat. For many, it’s more than just nutrition. It’s a social ritual. And there are a lot of them. A quick check of Wikipedia shows many. There are people who only eat vegetables. There’s people who only eat meat. There’s people who avoid carbs. There’s people who only eat like cavemen did. There’s detoxes and cleanses. Medical diets. There’s religious restrictions, both ancient and modern. To some, eating well is more important than eating enough. People take their dietary health very seriously, and there’s no end to the things they will try to figure out what works for them.
Two of the most common diets people will uphold are the local food and slow food movements. Both are fairly straightforward. The idea behind local food is that it is healthier for one’s community. When food comes from far away, you are mentally disconnected from the processes that create and deliver food. It becomes abstract, a far off thing you can ignore, and this allows a complacency of thought that can let negative and pathological systems take hold. By eating local, you are forced to think more intentionally about your food choices, and this drives better and healthier choices.
Slow food is a similar idea. It frames itself in opposition to fast food. You go to a fast food restaurant, and absent-mindedly order something unhealthy, because it’s quick and easy. Food supply chains strive for faster, more efficient production, resulting in food that is unhealthy, but easy to transport and prepare. Finally, food that is prepared fast will be consumed fast, again allowing people to quickly make unhealthy choices, without thinking. By slowing food down, you short circuit these negative tendencies, resulting in better food and healthier choices.
Ultimately, both of these boil down to the idea that we don’t think enough about what we eat before we eat it. We drive on autopilot, and take convenience and enjoyment over nutrition and health. If only we would all just stop and think, be more intentional about or diets, so many problems would be resolved.
Just as we have concerns about consuming healthy food, we should have concerns about consuming healthy media. Samuel told us the other day about our modern media environment. Today, people are quickly and without thinking, consuming delicious morsels of media that have been painstakingly designed to be addictively bite-sized. The result is unsurprising to any locavore. By mindlessly consuming the latest juicy gossip, our anemic diets have landed us with a host of new health problems. Facebook depression drives people to therapists and medication. People stay alone at home, racked with FOMO. Internet addiction is so pernicious, people are debating adding it to the DSM. But what if there were another way? If consuming fast media is as unhealthy as consuming fast food, why not a slow media diet?
Our media is not slow enough, and not local enough. People bemoan the 24 hour news cycle, but in the world of Twitter reporting, being first is more important than being right. In our race to have the scoop, to be the first to write (or read) about an event, mistakes are made. And these mistakes can cost people dearly. Incorrect details can focus outrage on the wrong people, ruining lives when someone reports the wrong name. More often, such haste gives openings to people who make a business out of exploiting such errors. The stress, the pain, the mistakes, are they really worth it? Is being first more important than being right? Let’s slow down, and short circuit these negative tendencies.
Just as technology has sped up our media, it’s broadened its reach. We can see news from all across the world, as if we were there. Two years ago, we had front row seats to a war in Crimea. And, closer to home, even the smallest details of far-off lands don’t escape our news feeds. But is this a good thing? While we’re distracted with tales of faraway places, we ignore more and more our local communities. People will pay attention to the most meaningless of details in a presidential election, while blatant corruption in local politics passes by unnoticed in broad daylight. At the end of the day, what’s more important to your life: the tears of a president two thousand miles away, or the unanimous budget vote in city hall for a thousand tear gas canisters? When we get our news from a globalized supply chain, instead of a local one, we make the wrong decisions. Our abstracted understandings let trivialities dominate, while we ignore the things that daily stress us out.
In 2014 I met up for lunch with some former coworkers. Trying to make conversation, I made reference to a current national controversy. My friend’s response was puzzled. Despite this controversy involving his employer, he had no awareness of it. After we caught him up to speed, his response surprised me. “I try not to read about things like that. There’s nothing I can do about it, and there’s enough depressing things in the world. I’d rather focus on the people and things important to me.” This resonated with me. Since then, I’ve turned a critical eye on the things I let dominate my attention. I’ve cut out all of the news from my life, save a few local sources. Like he said, there’s nothing I can do about it anyway. It’s not actionable. It’s just taking up mindspace. I’ve stopped paying attention to social media. Twitter, Facebook, etc., it’s all just ways to keep in touch with my friends and family. I’ve been slow to respond to the latest two minutes’ hate, preferring the moderated affect of the Taoist farmer. I’ve made sure that when I pay attention, it’s to things that matter. Who cares about the latest outrage on salon.com; what have they ever done to make my life better?
Slow media. Local media. Unlike their dietary counterparts, these aren’t movements. But maybe they should be.