Have you ever noticed how much of our days are filled with some form of media or another? Even if we do not sit down in front of a television and veg, we are inundated by media. We text each other while watching television. We surf the Internet (often multiple sites at once) while we listen to music. We see billboards while we drive to buy groceries. We listen to the radio to and from work. We compulsively check our email, Facebook, and other social networking sites. The media is our constant companion.
Is this healthy? Often we fail to realize (or if we do realize it, we don’t allow it to shape our thoughts and behaviors) that the media, as a medium, exists to sell things. If not actual products, then it is conveying information and viewpoints. All of these things are often consumed by an unquestioning and unassuming audience. Why? Because if we were to think critically about all the media we expose ourselves to on a daily basis, then we wouldn’t have any energy (or time) left for the tasks that fill our day. We have grown so used to this constant companion that it is easy for us to frequently take things at face value and not question what we see, hear and read. Even if we see something we disagree with, often we just make a mental note that we disagree with it and move on, rather than engaging in thoughtful discussion or action.
Sometimes I wonder if our culture’s addiction to the media is why so many of us have problems making decisions and sticking to those decisions. We are so used to “googling” everything and/or relying on information we’ve found in the media that it is hard for us to think and ponder by ourselves. I’ve frequently found this in my own life, particularly when I’ve spent a lot of time online. I go to sit down to rest by myself and I find it difficult to sit in solitude. I don’t know what to do with silence.
One of the most thought provoking assignments I had in college was to go a week without any form of media. Many of my friends were infuriated by the assignment. Initially, I didn’t think it would be that difficult. I thought I would just have to go without the radio, which I listened to on my drive to and from school; and I would have to go without email. I soon realized that there were billboards on the main interstate I took to get to and from school. Music was always playing in stores and my daily dose of the news came from the newspaper or the Internet. All of these things had to be avoided for a week. Through this exercise, I realized how much of our time and brainpower is occupied by media. During and after this exercise, I noticed how many conversations revolve around the latest television show and often wondered if people realize they are getting really upset (substitute in any mood) by something that is imaginary.
During my week without the media, life seemed to slow down. I had time to think and ponder life, and by the end of the week it was not strange to sit down by myself in silence. I found myself seeking out the company of others for enjoyment and entertainment, rather than finding it in a movie or on a web page.
Years later, this exercise’s impact on my media consumption is still evident. We’ve made conscious decisions in our own home about what media we utilize and consume and what technology we allow in our house. Our hope is that we’ll raise children who are free and thorough thinkers and that we, as parents and individual members of society, will be the same.