The case for Slow Journalism in an age of impulsive social media

Quick, strong emotion is often an enemy of truth, which is what most hacks are meant to be in the business of finding.

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In some dusty and almost forgotten corner of the internet, an argument is raging even now as to whether Slavoj Žižek was in fact quoting Goebbels when he attributed the following to Antonio Gramsci: “The old world is dying, and the new one struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.”

I have my own theory, which is that with his customary perspicacity, Žižek foresaw the division of a sporting kingdom that few knew had penetrated his native Slovenia. Cricket, as I have written here before, is splitting in two, between old and new, east and west, fast and slow. All manner of monsters are attending this ritual. And the latest emerged recently, with all the promise of a royal newborn, and fell not far short of the attention.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has suggested a new form of the game, apparently to stoke interest among young people, in which each side faces 16 overs. Just over a decade ago, the move to a 20-over format (Twenty20) was considered revolutionary. A generation earlier, the move to 50 overs was talked of as heralding doom.

Cricket survived. But where will this remorseless truncation end? At some point, commercial logic will demand a ten-over competition. How about five overs? Or 11 balls per innings, one for each player in either side?

The era upon which we are embarked has many labels, of which the most useful tend to convey its speed. This is the age of acceleration, in which Moore’s law, incessant innovation, communication technology and Schumpeterian cycles of creative destruction have made dizzying change the only constant in our lives. It is no wonder that many people want the world to slow down, and to find reliable provinces of our culture in which time can be an ally rather than an enemy.

In 2004, Carl Honoré published In Praise of Slow, chronicling the rise of a global movement that said, in short, there’s no need to rush. His argument was equally predictable and meritorious. Various outposts of this tendency have permeated our public domain, of which the Slow Food movement you hear about on BBC Radio 4 is one.

I have been banging the drum for Slow Journalism for a long time, and made the case for it to the BBC board before I joined. The impulse to quick, strong emotion, incentivised by social media, is often an enemy of truth, which is what most hacks are meant to be in the business of finding. My favourite kind of journalism is found in magazines for that very reason, which is just as well.

Today this column launches a new campaign, for Slow Cricket. As its sole founding member, chairman and chief executive, I make plain my belief that, in this sport of champions, the slower the game, the deeper the action. This is not the caterwauling of some witless laggard, raging against the dying of the light: the sheer complexity and beauty of cricket reward sustained affection.

There is an obvious counter to all this, of course. Time is a luxury of the rich. I, as a sometimes exhausted father, have reached the age when I qualify as a candidate for Escape to the Country. Technological innovation is inevitable; you can’t stop the world going round.

Nonsense, dear reader. The fact that you follow this publication shows you prize contemplation. But our common life is ever more antithetical to the idea of gradually accumulated pleasures. I fantasise about a digital detox.

Until it arrives, let’s update another philosopher friend of this column. EF Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful is subtitled A Study of Economics as if People Mattered. He advocated actions according to their appropriateness of scale. Today we need actions appropriate in speed – and a fresh economics as if people mattered.

Food, journalism, cricket, you could add indefinitely to this list. Sing it from rooftops, and take your time: “Slow is beautiful”. Who’s with me? 

This article appears in the 27 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Corbyn ultimatum