Issue 06: The Slow Scroll
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Issue 06: Let's Do Nothing

Thanks for tuning into The Slow Scroll! This week, we look at how wifi-free places are quickly disappearing, and we discuss doing nothing with Oakland-based artist Jenny Odell.

Welcome to Green Bank, a town that adheres to the strictest ban on technology 

If you're an electrosensitive—somebody who suffers from frequencies emitted by modern electrical devices—spaces in America without wifi are rare.

Residents of Green Bank, West Virginia live without not only cellphones "but also Wi-Fi, microwave ovens and any other devices that generate electromagnetic signals". Alexa, Google and other bluetooth devices are banned in order to protect the sweet silence that permits radio telescopes at the Green Bank Observatory, which allows physicists to measure gravitational waves and astronomers to study stardust. 

Pagan Kennedy grapples with questions in this compelling NYTimes piece like "who will save the endangered Quiet Zone inside our own heads?" and "what if, instead of going all-in on mobile phones in the early 2000s, we just hadn’t?" But the one assumption she does make is that off-grid places should be disappearing, and that we "must" wire up rural America. But should we? At least, we can try and rethink how wifi can make people connect in real life. 

It's 3AM—Who is your iPhone Talking To?

Another reason to move to Green Bank: your iPhone may be passing off your data while you sleep, unbeknownst to you. 

A recent 'privacy experiment' showed that "5,400 hidden app trackers guzzled our data — in a single week." This included marketing companies, research firms and other unspecified companies, which contradicts this Apple ad that boasted the privacy of using their phone.

If you're worried about your data getting into the wrong hands, check out this app Privacy Pro, created by former NSA researcher Patrick Jackson, who is the chief technology officer for Disconnect. Want more? Here are more apps to help you protect your data.

Interview: Do Nothing With Jenny Odell

We chatted with Oakland-based artist, Stanford professor and author of the book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.

Where’s your happy place?

On a typical day, my happy place is the rose garden near my apartment. But really my happy place is anywhere that birds and trees abound, and that feels somewhat removed from the rush of the everyday. Libraries are a close second.

What's the best way to say hi to a stranger?
Judging from the best ways that strangers have said hi to me, you should comment on something in your shared environment. For example, I think it’s actually quite profound that the weather is a staple of small talk, because it’s something that we all share in common. I’ve met a lot of strangers while I was looking up in some tree (probably for a bird), because they want to know what I’m looking at. So, maybe the real answer is: pay attention to what others are paying attention to, and join them there.

How can people pay more attention, or rebuild their attention when we're all so used to having immediate dopamine wins?
Seek out situations that reward you in a way that feels as different as possible from those dopamine hits, then reflect on that difference. For example, I was recently hiking alone and unexpectedly spotted a Hutton’s vireo (a small, painfully cute bird). Even more unexpectedly, I saw its baby bumbling around on the forest floor. I was just completely floored, and watched them until they were gone. Afterward, I noticed that I felt very “full,” but it was clear that this fullness was different from the kind you get from consuming or seeking something. The experience wasn’t something I could measure or possess. I keep things like that in the back of my head when the shallower stuff starts to be seductive again.

"For me, everything comes back to observation. Observe yourself interacting with technology. Probably one of the first things you’ll notice is that persuasive design in tech is designed to keep you from observing yourself!"

What tips would you offer our audience on how to have a healthier relationship with tech?
For me, everything comes back to observation. Observe yourself interacting with technology. Probably one of the first things you’ll notice is that persuasive design in tech is designed to keep you from observing yourself! And it doesn’t need to be punitive, like castigating yourself for looking at your phone too much. You can be genuinely curious about it, just like you’d be curious about a weird weather phenomenon or a strange rock. Through this curiosity, you can come to know your enemy.

Thank you Jenny!  If you're in need of a good book to curl up with, check out How to Do Nothing. We appreciate you and any feedback, so feel free to email us your thoughts on what you see here!

Why ‘The Slow Scroll’?

Social Isolation is Killing Us. Tech companies are failing us. And we’re all hopelessly addicted to our screens.

Living IRL has never been more important.

That’s why we created The Slow Scroll, a weekly newsletter by IRL Labs, sent directly to your inbox (oh the irony). The Slow Scroll curates the latest and most inspiring content and resources, empowering readers to untether and live slowly.
Send this to a friend who needs to slow down. Then grab a cup of coffee with them.

Brought to you by...

Ivan Cash, Editor-in-Chief
Cyrena Lee, Editor and Lead Writer
Erin Ellis, Illustrator

Emily Lin, Producer

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