Slow words

Drew Bell
Drew Bell
Aug 24, 2017 · 2 min read

In Tim Bray’s summary of A Culture of Growth (go read it, we’ll still be here when you’re done), the bit about the postal system intrigues me, and I’d like to think it’s not just because I’m one civil service exam away from being a third-generation letter carrier.

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There are plenty of obvious downsides to a communication system as slow as 16th-century letter-writing, but let’s look at some of the advantages:

  • Slow outbound communication means you compose carefully. If a clarification might take weeks, you want to get it right the first time. Asides are worth including. Your argument or explanation needs to be self-sufficient.
  • Slow inbound communication means you read thoroughly. Unless you’re dealing with Pepys-level correspondence, there’s no theoretically-better letter about to arrive. You have what you have, and changing the subject is slow, too.
  • There’s no expectation of voluminous, quick feedback. No hearts, no stars, no reblogs, no comments.

Tangential to this is the news that the Village Voice is ending its print edition. Are we attached to print media for reasons other than nostalgia? A print alt-weekly has a nice place in the world:

  • Like the slow letters above, an individual issue is limited. Without infinite scroll, you’re more likely to return to a story that didn’t grab you on first pass.
  • When you see other people reading that week’s issue on the bus, at the barber, you have an idea of what they’re reading. There’s a starting point for conversation, even if it’s just “can you believe that ‘Savage Love’”?
  • The advertising is shackled and passive. It can’t collect information about you to sell later… which is probably why nobody wants to pay for it anymore.

Again, the downsides of centralized control of a slower, less shareable communication probably outweigh these benefits. But we’re still losing something.

I type up these posts and throw them into a hole. A few dozen of you might add claps, but a post rarely prompts a reply, and almost never a conversation. I mean, who has time for noodling about websites when the country’s descending into a cruel fascist hellscape the next tab over?

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