A few weeks ago- the week of television premieres to be exact- I had my students go on a media fast. For two days, they consumed media (internet, television, music, and magazines) as they normally would and then for four days, they went medialess. No music, no Facebook, no America’s Next Top Model. They weren’t thrilled with me. At the end of the experience, they had to write a reaction paper about the experience.
Most of them thought they took in a lot less media than they actually did– something they realized when they had to record all the media they consumed those first two days. In fact, the average teenager takes in 10 hours of media a day (counting their multitasking hours where they are watching television and surfing the internet, for example). For teenagers of color, that number bumps up to 13.5 hours of media a day. Young people spend more time taking in media a year than doing anything else (other than sleeping).
A lot of my studnets noticed that they were impacted- physically- by the music they listened to– it pumped them up, gave them anxiety, made them think some things were more okay than they really thought they were without the music filter (how they danced in a club for example).
They were absolutely comparing themselves to people on the reality shows they watched- both physically and emotionally.
The media fast turned things on their heads for them. Some of them quit Facebook as a result of the fast, some are going to start turning the television off rather than using it as background noise, some are going to try to put away their phones (which they use to check Facebook and text) and try to interact more with people in realtime.
I use my phone when I am in public by myself because I am insecure about being alone, one student wrote.
I watch television because I want to see what a perfect life looks like so I can try to get it and always feel happy, another shared.
Using a phone to hide that you are alone, just secures that you will stay alone. Who wants to approach someone who is absorbed in her phone?
And, really, there is no reality show that’s real. So that perfect that you are glimpsing, is just smoke and mirrors.
Think about it for yourself, how much media do you take in per day on average? Is it primarily television, the Internet, print media, or music? What do you get out of it? How does it affect you? What would you change about your habits if you had the discipline to do it?
I’ll go first:
If I had to guess, my sense is that I watch 1-2 hours of television a day (some Today show in the morning as we get going and an episode of something like Parenthood, Grey’s Anatomy or The Good Wife at night) and spend 5 hours on the computer a day– mostly in email or typing up word documents. Probably my biggest media change of the last few months is switching to audiobooks over music for my runs and driving. I find that I get out of my head much more with a book to listen to, I get to experience more books, and I am motivated to go longer on my workouts because I want to hear a few more pages. I am also using my cellphone so much less in the car because I really want to hear more of the book I am listening to before I get to my destination. I used to be a voracious magazine reader, but I’ve cut back on my subscriptions and still have a stack of magazines that I haven’t touched since June because I am choosing books over magazines for my reading time these days. What I am most aware of when it comes to media right now is how much we allow Happy to be exposed to it and what we allow him to see. We need the tv sometimes just to get dinner prepared (so that he is not screaming at us to go outside while we’re unavailable to supervise him out there), but I also don’t want to build a media dependence in him– I want him to always prefer going outside, being with people, and playing actively over watching TV and so far that is the case, but I know at some point that could change and so the most proactive thing for us to do right now is limit his media time.
Now, your turn. What’s going on with media in your life right now?