media diet.

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I was looking through some information on Flowing Data and came across this post. In a 2009 edition of Wired magazine, illustrator Jason Lee depicted their recommended servings of screen time for “optimal media health” for Americans based on the data reported in a NYTimes article released by the Council for Research Excellence. The article specifically measures media consumption, so I assume it excludes most interactions with computers in a workplace setting.

In relation to the actual collection of data, one interesting fact to note is that the data is not based on what people remember watching but was collected in real time. But “when subjects in the study were asked to recall their behaviors, ‘people underestimated the amount of time they spent with TV by a substantial amount,’ about 25 percent on average” (NYTimes article). And they underestimated other media use as well.

First of all, I understand how media time can compound, but this research shows that on any given day over 50% of our waking hours are spent consuming media. When studies like these are released, I’m not sure how people can argue that media has affected society. And based on our underestimation of our screen time, we are either in denial about how we spend our time, or are so conditioned to be constantly consuming, and even craving, media that we don’t even realize the extent of our intake.

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peek-a-boo.

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“Together, this ensemble of electronic techniques called into being a new world – a peek-a-boo world, where now this event, now that, pops into view for a moment, then vanishes again… a world that is, like the child’s game of peek-a-boo, entirely self-contained. But like peek-a-boo, it is also endlessly entertaining.” – Neil Postman

I read this statement by Postman and it led me to really analyze aspects of our social environment, including news (about which Postman writes extensively). A friend and I were recently talking about the news because she feels compelled to be better informed. We had a lengthy discussion about news and what it means to be “informed”.

I am torn on the subject as a whole. I feel as though I should have a better grasp on the happenings of the world as I am a part of it, but I don’t care to immerse myself too deeply, nor do I know when enough information is enough (back to that in a minute). While I have an interest in information about, for example, the genocide in Darfur, there are many “newsworthy” stories reported daily that I do not care about or need to know. I feel as though society disapproves of my deliberate naiveté, but why does it really matter to anyone?

I no longer watch the news because I find it incredibly disheartening; many of the stories are full of the horrible things people are doing to each other. Maybe I’m too empathetic, but I find myself very affected by the news. I’m a sensitive person, but perhaps I’m more easily upset because I watch/read it so rarely. Perhaps that turns a harsh light on our society’s desensitization to these events. Postman talks about the effects of hearing 45-second reports on various stories – murders, robberies, etc. Regardless of how upset these stories make any person feel, they will always be followed by a commercial break and, after the news program ends, a sitcom or some other entertaining show. We’ve trained ourselves to remove the coherence of the events and have molded a “world of fragments, where events stand alone, stripped of any connection to the past, or to the future, or to other events” (Postman).

And we can do nothing to stop, help or change most of these bits of news – they’ve already happened. I also feel like certain people keep up with the news simply to have something to discuss – to be “in the loop” when someone asks, “Did you hear about the  ______ that happened in ______?” Not everyone fits into this category, but some do.

The friend that suggested Postman to me in the first place is fond of the following quote:

“… There has been no worthwhile discussion, let alone widespread understanding, of what information is and how it gives direction to a culture.” – Neil Postman

Though people feel an innate hunger to consume ever-increasing amounts of information, does anyone ever question why?

pick up a book (and read it).

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I’ve love to read since I was a toddler. When I was in school, people joked that reading was nerdy, but as I’ve grown I’ve discovered that fewer and fewer people seem to enjoy reading. It seems to be a leisure activity of the past; no one has time to sit down and enjoy a good book, and frankly few seem to want to.

In his book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr points out that information has become incredibly more accessible to the masses. “Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes.” As a student and advertising professional, I can appreciate the ease of online catalog searches and Google to complete even the simplest tasks. Our society has become so focused on gathering information and increasing productivity that reading lengthy text, especially for pleasure, has become a lost art. Carr quotes Joe O’Shea, a former student body president at Florida State University and 2008 Rhodes recipient. He says, “Sitting down and going through a book cover to cover doesn’t make sense. It’s not a good use of my time, as I can get the information I need faster through the web.” When Postman first wrote “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, television was the latest medium, but his references are just as applicable, if not more so, to the internet. Postman points out that “television does not ban books, it displaces them”. I found this to be incredibly poignant and meaningful. With the advent and increased use of visual, faster media, reading lengthy material is no longer desirable.

The lack of reading interest, especially in our youth, has caused me concern for a few years. I wrote my undergraduate thesis about the concept of a nonprofit organization hoping to reverse the process, especially in younger generations. Though I’ve barely begun reading Carr’s book, he has already made some interesting observations about how technology has changed our culture. I’m excited to continue progressing with this topic!

media ecology on my mind.

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A friend of mine recently recommended Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business”. I’d never heard of the author and was a little put off by its intense title. I flipped through the first chapter and realized how frequently Postman references Orwell and Huxley – I’ve always enjoyed “1984” and wanted to read “Brave New World” before I started. Postman finally topped my reading list last fall.

I’ve never read a more interesting and culturally relevant book in my life. Though the material was deep and made for intense reading, I gleaned so much from Postman’s words. I have a new found interest in the field of media ecology and plan to continue my research in this area and possibly pursue a career in it. I’m creating this blog to house my thoughts on various texts, blogs, theories and other resources.

I chose the name of the blog based on a quote from “Amusing Ourselves…”. In the final chapter, Postman notes that “the problem, in any case, does not reside in what people watch. The problem is in that we watch. The solution must be to find out how we watch”. He goes on to say that “there has been no worthwhile discussion, let alone widespread understanding, of what information is and how it gives direction to a culture”. As consumers of media, I don’t think we ever question the medium or the effect it has on our society as a whole. We are constantly seeking new information at faster speeds, but what is the purpose? I merely seek to question our motives and assess the influence these changes have on our culture. As Postman says, “To ask is to break the spell.”