The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Is media the opiate du jour of the masses? Media Magazine's Joe Mandese makes a convincing case, roping in media professionals into the addictive process.
...While media aren't necessarily addictive in the way that controlled substances are, prolonged exposure to some media can produce the same kind of emotional, psychological, and even chemical responses that narcotics can. People use media to unwind and "veg out." They use them as a diversion from their everyday lives. And when consumed in extreme quantities, media can even lull individuals into a false sense of reality or trigger drug-like rushes or highs. If you doubt this, talk to any 18-year-old gamer after a multi-hour session with Halo, Final Fantasy, or Grand Theft Auto.

Still not sure? Consider the very language of media planning. What's the term that's become most commonly used to describe a media consumer? We call them users, the same word used to describe drug addicts.
Ergo, advertisers and marketers must be considered akin to pushers. I wanna be sedated.

Much of Mandese's article draws from Ball State University professor Bob Papper's Middletown study, which measured the average person's daily media consumption patterns:
At its most extreme, Papper says, media addiction is no different than other behavioral addictions. "People lose control. It's like an eating disorder - most people can say no, but some people can't seem to stop," he says, citing an example of a man in the Middletown study who consumes 17 hours of media a day. "He was basically in front of a TV, newspaper, or radio all day long, from the moment he woke to the moment he went to sleep."
Seventeen hours? What a piker. As a self-professed media junkie, I'm not sure I'd recognize existence away from a television, radio, music player or computer monitor.
While this might seem like extremely compulsive behavior, Papper says the trend line indicates it's increasingly the norm. Media simply are occupying more of our lives, and with each new breakthrough in media technology, we're consuming more of them. Even technologies that would seem to give consumers more control over the media they consume appear to increase the amount of media they use, not decrease it. That's the case with digital video recorders (DVRs), which have been shown to make people watch more TV, ostensibly because it becomes a more satisfying experience when you can watch what you want, when you want. The same is true of online access: Broadband and Wi-Fi increase online media consumption patterns, not the opposite.
So it appears that we're beyond redemption. Might as well enjoy the ride.

Even though much of this media absorption takes place subconsciously, I think we feel the cumulative effect. Especially when advertising or marketing attempts to invade new territory, most people put up strong resistance. But ultimately, media's purpose is to communicate ideas and make us feel connected to each other. It's not really an intimate connection, but it does create a sense of shared knowledge, even of community. That's why it's such an integral part of our lives.