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Move Over Slow Food: Introducing Slow Media

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When my father died in 2002, I inherited his thousand-album music collection which ran the gamut from The Red Army Choir Plays Kalinka to a chortle-inducing bit of vinyl called Port Said, the cover of which involved a belly dancer wearing what appeared to my once very embarrassed young eyes to be pasties of a sort of Levantine variety. Over the years, Dad migrated from his prized Garrard teak-cased turntable to a Teac cassette deck to a Bose whole room CD system, and with every passing year, his beloved record collection gathered more and more dust. I finally dipped into it a few months after I lost him, extracting Moishe Oysher Sings Kol Nidre; I put it on my ancient record player, fired it up, and remarkably, it drew the attention of our cat, Neville, who planted himself in front of the speakers and refused to move until it was time to turn it over to Side B.

Most of my father's albums are still sitting in the closet in the box they were moved in, but these days, I'm seriously thinking about bringing them into the den, and housing them in a nice Danish modern credenza, much like the one they lived in when I was a child. I've been trolling eBay for a vintage Garrard turntable just like his, and if I find one, you can be certain that the next iTunes audiobook I buy won't actually be digital and won't actually be on iTunes: it will be David Sedaris's Live for Your Listening Pleasure, which Hachette is releasing on January 5th 2010.

On vinyl.

According to the New York Times:

Maja Thomas, senior vice president for digital and audio publishing at the Hachette Book Group, said she was drawn to the idea [of the format] precisely because it was quirky. Mr. Sedaris's "audience is very attuned to irony and is going to find this funny," Ms. Thomas said.

That said, the Times also reports that:

albums are enjoying something of a renaissance, posting $57 million in sales in 2008, more than double the previous year and the best for the format since 1990, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. The format is so rare for audiobooks, however, that the Audiobook Publishers Association has never even tracked its sales.

Which, among vintage-loving, Slow Media geeks may not even be the point (although it certainly is to bean counters). What is the point, exactly? The fact that there are a lot of us out there, and the grass roots reaction to universal hyperdigitization (perceived or otherwise) is omnipresent, and extends far beyond the audio world.

Consider: a close family friend ditches his 12 megapixel camera for a Leica M6 Rangefinder. Culinary anthropologists Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford shoot only film for their magnificent books. The Fountain Pen Hospital on Warren Street in Manhattan is selling a 1918 Stars and Stripes model Conklin for a little over $1000. One of my close friends, a trader in Chicago, mans his stock exchange desk with nothing but a small pad and a Bic pen. I regularly keep my eyes peeled for an Ericsson rotary Cobra phone to match the one that used to sit on the desk in my childhood living room. Letter press printing communities are emerging everywhere, creating original cards and posters in response to their mass-produced counterparts. The guitar of the minute (if you're a hipster) is not a brand new Taylor (or Martin or Gibson or Breedlove) but an old Epiphone beater that you maybe picked up at a tag sale. Serious cooks are eschewing microwaves and food processors for pressure cookers and mortar and pestles. And the only book publishers who seem, in these days of Kindles, Nooks, and Readers, to be doing passably well for themselves are low-overhead, specifically traditionalist houses who specialize in, let's see....BOOKS....meant for the long haul, printed on better paper, and produced with loving care and attention. It's like comparing McDonald's to Chez Panisse, only with flap copy and royalty rates. Food photographer/stylist Christopher Hirsheimer and editor/writer Melissa Hamilton gave a big, fat Bronx cheer to the cookbook industry, and instead, they now make their own. From scratch. Like a cake.

Sure, this whole Luddite, reactionary, writing-with-a-quill, back-to-basics thing may be an oversimplification. And admittedly, I, myself, am waiting with baited breath for the arrival of the much heralded Apple Tablet; I am changing phone plans and will be buying an iPhone in the coming weeks; I even want to wire the house with a Sonos system so that I can simultaneously hear Bach in one room and Coleman Hawkins in the other, the latter digitized by my banker friend from his father's collection of 1950s Blue Note recordings. What goes around comes around, it seems.

The fact is that new media, love it or hate it, is never about usability. That's not its point. It's usually about getting there first, and changing the media lexicon; it's about selling us, the consumer, the next big thing, which will be obsolete by the time it hits the stores so that we want the next thing after that. And after that. The only answer? Go Slow. Listen to your father's albums. Write a letter and stick a stamp on it. Make dinner from scratch. Read a book. A paper one.

I only hope that I can make Slow Media work in my house; I look forward to sitting back in my Eames knock-off lounger, sipping a cocktail, and listening to vinyl, until the meditation gong goes off on my Blackberry and tells me that I've got mail.