Posts Tagged ‘Media and Addiction’

I am catching up on my blog reading and I found this post very interesting from George Barna:

I do a lot of research. The facts and figures from Barna surveys lead to a lot of conclusions, some of which are predictable, some of which are surprising, a few of which become controversial. One of the latter conclusions is this: media exposure has become America’s most widespread and serious addiction.

According to the American Psychiatry Association, an addiction is a chronic disorder in which we are unable to control our need for the substance in question. The Association adds that addictions have a combination of several simultaneous components at work. Addictions literally change our brains. They do so by changing the chemical balance and flow within the brain, or by altering the brain structure, or by changing our emotions, motivations and memory capacity. Addictions cause withdrawal symptoms when exposure to the addictive item is eliminated and they cause us to lose control over how much exposure we seek to experience. The APA indicates that addictions may produce a desire to reduce our exposure – a desire that we are unable to satisfy. Another sign of an addiction is that it causes us to abandon or reduce our involvement in normal and healthy activities. And addictions are characterized by the addict’s repeated denials that a real problem exists. According to APA, when we experience the concurrent presence of three or more of these symptoms, we have an addiction.

To be fair, as we put the media under the microscope, it is important to note that the media can and sometimes do provide important benefits. For instance, we know that some media tools – such as training DVDs, movies, and music – can stimulate thinking and conversation, and often assist in the retention of information. One of the studies we conducted a few years ago showed that people are more likely to remember principles demonstrated in a brief, dramatic video clip than they are to recall the same principles described in a sermon. Media can also provide people with a healthy way of relaxing and decompressing after an exhausting or tense time. They can capture people’s attention and focus it upon items of great importance. And when properly used, media can be help facilitate language development, as well as reasoning and problem-solving skills.

But as often as not, media content winds up serving the lowest common denominator because that’s where the largest audience – and, consequently, the money and notoriety – is to be found. Sometimes that makes media content a distraction from more important or helpful matters. In more serious cases, however, media content can become a debilitating obsession for individuals, and a pathway to societal deterioration.

I arrived at this conclusion based on looking at a lot of data. For instance, if media content and exposure levels are at addictive levels, we would expect to see a steady increase in the amount of media exposure that characterizes the typical person’s life. Research consistently shows such an increase. Two decades ago, the average child under 18 spent about 15 to 20 hours per week digesting media content. Today, it has nearly tripled to almost 60 hours per week of unduplicated time. They now devote more time to media than to anything other than sleep.

We can see this as a generational trend, as well. The elder generation, the pre-Boomers, did not grow up with media ubiquity and never became accustomed to it. Boomers broke the ice, embracing media as their means to free expression. Busters championed technology, making media a dominant companion as they grieved the absence of parents and the thrill of expanding their world electronically. Mosaics, those 22 and younger, have known little else besides a media saturated universe, and look forward to blowing it out even more.
The continual expansion of consumer technology has created a felt need for more content. Americans don’t want to miss out on anything significant. If it’s out there, and has perceived value, they will seek it out.

Another sign of our media addiction is people’s resistance to reducing their amount of media exposure. If we were serious about reducing the amount of media exposure we would witness parents having boundaries on how much media time their children are allowed. Unfortunately, we see nothing of the sort. And if we were serious about reducing the amount of media exposure we would see diminishing expenditures on personal media and technology, on in-home media and technology and even forms of mobile media, such as video screens and satellite radio installed in cars. In each case, we actually see a per capita increase in such spending. In fact, the research shows that growing numbers of people are interested in making their home into a “digital nest.”

In fact, if we were serious about reducing the amount of media exposure we would find surveys showing expectations of future media purchases to be on the decline. We find exactly the opposite: consumers expect to add more electronic and technological goodies to their arsenal as soon as they can afford them.

Another angle on this resistance relates to the breadth of our adoption of new lifestyle components. In this regard we evaluate how people are redesigning their homes and vehicles, their occupational practices, their workplace environment, and their relational practices. In so doing, we find that Americans are increasingly committed to incorporating media tools and content into those dimensions of their lives. In 2009, American consumers spent in the neighborhood of $400 billion on media and technology. As a proportion of disposable income, that figure has remained consistent over the past decade.

Further evidence of our media addiction comes from the measurable physiological changes resulting from our exposure to substantial quantities of media. Studies by the American Academy of Pediatrics note that among children 2 through 18, the greater the media exposure, the fewer the hours of restful sleep they get and the worse the student’s school performance. Their work also shows that the more media a child is exposed to, the more aggressive their behavior and the more desensitized to violence and sexualization they become. Further, they report that the more media a young person digests, the more likely they are to become obese, their ability to engage in culturally normative moral reasoning suffers, and their average attention span is shorter. Add to that the Harvard Medical School research that has discovered a strong connection between the amount of media consumed and the amount of calories consumed. Extended interaction with media also reduces creativity and can result in anxiety due to information overload. Various medical research studies have revealed the effects of media in connection with illnesses such as anorexia and bulimia, and a variety of sexually transmitted diseases.

Still more signs of media addiction include the discovery of a reduction in people’s participation in normal and healthy social, occupational and recreational activities. One phrase may say it all in this regard: couch potato. Much research has found a strong link between time devoted to media exposure and a paucity of relationships and poor physical conditioning. Almost 80% of the TV commercials that kids see each year are for fast food, candy, cereal and toys. The result has been numerous studies showing a firm connection between exposure to such advertising and overeating. The preponderance of media teaches us that violence can be safe, fun, harmless and productive. A common (albeit covert) media message is that it is appropriate to resolve conflicts through disrespectful language, physical violence or other aggressive and intentionally hurtful behaviors that produce positive feelings within the aggressor. Out of more than 3,500 medical and behavioral research studies exploring the association between media violence and violent behavior, only 18 have NOT shown a correlation.

Scary media – whether that be in the form of slasher films, episodes about demonic possession or other portrayals of the dark side and sick behavior – have become the favorite genre of the Mosaic generation. One noted result is that feelings of fear about one’s environment are reaching record levels, manifested in nightmares, judgment of other people based upon appearance or stereotypes, and changes in daily behavioral routines to avoid scary places.

Media exposure has raised people’s willingness to experiment with substances that are intellectually understood to be potentially harmful – such as drugs, sex, alcohol, smoking and pre-marital sex. Further, the provocative dress styles of today’s young people reflects the overt sexualization of children.

Reading for pleasure has diminished substantially over the past 40 years, as the balance of people’s media diet has shifted. One dramatic consequence has been a severe loss in reading capacity among young people. A recent study showed that a majority of the nation’s employers deemed the recent high school graduating class to be deficient in their ability to write in English, to communicate with appropriate language, and to read basic instructions. A similar drop-off has been noted by employers in the communication and language skills of recent college graduates.

Finally, if we are addicted to media, you can bet that we will deny there is a real problem. And deny we do. Three-quarters (74%) of parents say the exposure of their children to inappropriate media content is one of their top concerns – yet they keep buying their kids media tools and allowing increased exposure. Two-thirds (65%) say they are very concerned that American children, in particular, are exposed to too much inappropriate media content – but a majority of those parents allow their children to have continued exposure to the very media content they are allegedly so concerned about. Perhaps this is because only 9% of parents believe that the media are the most significant influence on their children and only one out of every three enforce any limitations at all upon their children’s use of media.

By the time a person reaches the age of 21, it is estimated that they will have been exposed to more than 250,000 acts of violence through television, movies and video games. They will have viewed more than 2,000 hours, on average, of pornographic images that reduce the dignity and value of human life. They will have listened to several thousand hours of music in which the lyrical content promoted anger, hostility, disrespect for authority, selfishness and radical independence. But parents, teachers and other community leaders essentially allow that exposure to continue without limits.

Among teenagers and young adults, two out of three not only say that the media and technology they use make them happy, but a large majority of them admit that the thought of not having access to that technology causes them substantial emotional stress.
People in other nations, who probably see us more objectively than we can see ourselves, are amazed at not only our media infatuation but also the ever-increasing glut of morally and spiritually degrading content that we generate.

Do you still doubt that we’re addicted? Do a simple personal experiment. Ask a group of 12-year-olds to not watch TV for a week. Ask a group of juniors in high school to stay off the Internet for a week. Ask a group of 20-somethings to abandon their cell phone – and, of course, text messaging – for a week. You might as well ask them all to stop eating for a week: it’s just not gonna happen!

Media use has run the gamut, going from an oddity to a common practice to a habit to an obsession to an addiction in America. What can we do about it? What will you do?


Read Full Post »