The stress of our addictions
Smokers often say they smoke because they need to relax. Then they say they smoke because they need to stay awake. How can you have it both ways, one drug as a stimulant and as a depressant?
Yet some of us do the same thing through our consumption of the mass media. Each fall semester I give the 100-some students (mostly freshmen) in my introductory mass media class an exercise. I ask them to avoid their favorite mass media (usually television and radio) for only 72 hours. Then I ask them to write a journal of their responses, for class credit.
As you might imagine, most students find such an activity nearly impossible. They say they need the media to relax. But they say they need the media to avoid boredom. They say they'd go crazy without the media, that "silence is too loud." But they report that without the media they get more studying done, have time to talk to friends, sleep better, exercise more.
Can media be an addiction, perhaps not physical, like smoking, but psychological? One thing I hope to show in my class is that consumption of media can be a choice, not an requirement. I fear that instead of using the media to help improve the quality of their lives, too many of us let the media control us.
According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, people are feeling more stress because they believe they don't even have time to think anymore. This feeling that the world is moving too fast, and that you have to move along with it, is aggravated by the media: the breathless presentations of news 24 hours, the blip-second transmission of e-mail around the globe, the urgent screech of music or television baying for attention in the background, even the FAX machine and cellular telephones.
How can you reduce the stress of media? Several things have helped me:
1. Listen to only one media at a time. If you read, don't listen to the radio. I recently learned that world's-highest-IQ-holder Marilyn vos Savant cannot both listen to music and read or write at the same time. I can't either. Makes me feel much better knowing who my company is.
2. Leave the newspaper or TV news until evening. What, short of a nuclear attack, can be so urgent that it can't wait until after supper?
3. Unplug your cellular phone some of the time. How many of us REALLY need to be accessible at every moment?
4. For 15 minutes a day, just once a day, turn off all electronic media, and exercise, take a walk, pursue a hobby, or do housework in silence. You might find it deafening at first. But slowly, like a Buddhist promise, you may find timid thoughts creeping around to surprise and inspire you. And soon you'll be able to rely on yourself as much as on others for messages about what's really important in your life. That's quite a rare achievement in our media-saturated world.
Copyright 2004 by Ross F. Collins <www.ndsu.edu/communication/collins>