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May 13, 2014

Big in Norway: Slow TV

Olga Khazan's December 22, 2013 Atlantic essay spoke to me more directly than pretty much anything I've read in recent months.


Because my six-month long experiment with Google Glass last year, featuring videos in my 4:01 a.m. slot more often than not featuring Gray Cat doing not much of anything, often simply sleeping, without any voice-over or embellishment, pretty much defined what Ms. Khazan terms "Slow TV."

I cannot shake the sense that there is something in what appears to be nothing, something of value and lasting benefit.

Below, her eye-opening (or closing, depending on how you view this sort of thing) Atlantic piece.


It all started in 2009, with a seven-hour train trip from Oslo to Bergen. Bergensbanen [top], a live broadcast of the voyage by NRK, Norway's public broadcasting company, followed the train as it chugged through dark tunnels, snow-covered mountains, and misty valleys. More than 1 million Norwegians, a good 20 percent of the country's population, tuned in to watch.

Since then, "slow TV" has become a staple of Norwegian public broadcasting. In 2011, more than half the country watched a cruise ship's 134-hour journey up Norway's west coast. Earlier this year, NRK broadcast 18 hours of salmon swimming upstream. Two new epics aired this fall, one showing 100 hours of chess played by the Norwegian grand master Magnus Carlsen, and another offering a "sheep to sweater" view of knitting: four hours of discussion followed by eight and a half hours of sheep-shearing, thread-spinning, and needle-clacking.

Rather than complaining about the programs' long running times, Norwegians seem to relish them. "They allow you to go far deeper, to enjoy more details," a viewer named Finn Lunde told the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

The hosts of National Firewood Night, a 12-hour broadcast of logs being cut and then burned, invited viewers to submit advice via Facebook on how to position the wood. "I couldn't go to bed because I was so excited," one commenter wrote on the Web site of Dagbladet, a Norwegian newspaper. "When will they add new logs?"

Slow TV reflects the patience required to survive a long Norwegian winter, but also a hint of cultural rebellion. "All other TV is just speeding up, and we want to break with that," Lise-May Spissøy, who produced the knitting project, told Deutsche Welle. "We want to allow people to finish their sentences."


This post is being written at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday, January 7, 2013, while I am between Google Glass iterations: I returned my original (Version 1.0, in fact the third one I used in the course of the initial run since first picking up my Glass on June 28, 2013 in Google's Glass Studio at their Chelsea Market office in New York City) last week Tuesday and am awaiting the arrival any day now of Version 2.0, with numerous software and design tweaks that nevertheless do not make it appear any different to the casual observer than the original.

What I'm going to do with the new one is not at all yet clear to me.

I'm tempted to simply resume those 4:01 a.m. Gray Cat videos and views outside my house, but there's a part of me that's thinking there's a whole lot of other things that could prove far more engaging and enjoyable for both you and me.

I have noted that my YouTube subscriber count has risen slowly over the past few months from 108 to its current 119, so there's sure plenty of upside in that department. 

I wonder what it would be like to have a million YouTube subscribers?

Stranger things have happened... but not many.

May 13, 2014 at 04:01 AM | Permalink


Slow TV is not subject to typical film analysis. The route's known. There are no plot twists -or holes. The characterizations are usually mechanical in their delivery.

Non-scripted TV at its finest!

(Anybody got the longitude and latitude for that Salmon river?)

Posted by: 6.02*10^23 | May 15, 2014 1:22:57 AM

Joe’s post on slow tv inspired me to do a web search. Basically it invites the viewer to observe some segment of life uncondensed, and do nothing but observe it for an extended period. The antithesis of sound bites.

I’ve long hypothesized that ADHD may stem from exposure to ‘fast tv’ at critical periods in some vulnerable individuals. Just as the brain is developing the capacity to follow a theme over time and maintain focus, the process is being fractured by barrage of constantly shifting, disjointed stimuli. The message to the developing brain is that this is the way the world works, with attention repeatedly hijacked by novelty, and no follow-through. Attention is passively captured rather than actively employed, and any attempt to maintain focus and find continuity is fruitless or even painful. In this fragmented world, allowing one’s focus to be repeatedly captured by the next new thing is actually functional.

Slow tv might have some power to heal this. It would have to posess enough novelty to hold a viewer’s attention alongside the natural environment, with consideration to age. Perhaps in the process of observing a single thing over an extended time, without the distractions of pleasure, pain, social interaction, personal success or failure, some neural connections could be knit back together.

When I was a kid in LA in the fifties, tv stations included ABC, CBS, NBC, KATV and a couple other local but major channels. Behind these were a couple dozen more channels that operated part time and presented amateurish programs, romances, spaghetti westerns and such. (When no program was broadcasting, a ‘radar’ design with the network logo would appear on the screen accompanied by an annoying hum.)

I once watched one of these channels show a couple of guys playing pool. This wasn’t championship pool with game celebrities, emcees, a crowd, the press, etc. Just two guys.

Standing. Around. Taking. Turns. Shooting.


I watched it for an entire half hour. I thought it was dumb, yet it mesmerized me to the extent that I missed the regular program I’d come to watch.

Now I wouldn’t think it was dumb. And I’m still a kid.

—Written January 22, 2014

Posted by: Marianne | May 14, 2014 11:37:55 PM

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