Cutting Back on Media Consumption

I haven't been in a good place mentally or emotionally the past several weeks. In most of my free time I played video games or watched TV and had no desire to do much of anything else. Aside from alternating feelings of anxiousness and guilt, I felt mostly numb.

Earlier this week I decided I needed to drastically cut back on the amount of social, news, and entertainment media (including video games) I was consuming. In my free time, I decided to finish reading The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers, the wonderful biography of a man I have considered a role model and mentor since childhood. I have also focused more on personal prayer and scripture study.

The improvement in my mental and emotional state within just a few days has been remarkable. I've also been sleeping better. And as I have learned some things about the remarkable Fred Rogers, I have learned some things about myself.

One thing I have always known about myself, but am becoming more perceptive of with respect to its impact on my mental and emotional state, is that I am extremely sensitive to the influence of electronic media. Perhaps more sensitive than most. I have always had the ability to recall and replay visual and especially auditory media in my mind with a high degree of detail and accuracy. I have an excellent music memory. Recently, I was reminded of a music album I had listened to on cassette tape a great deal in my childhood, but never since. As I remembered this album, I could recall music from the album with startling detail in my mind. I recently rediscovered this particular album on Apple Music and, as I listened to it for the first time in decades, it sounded just as it had in my mind.

To varying degrees, we are all influenced by media. I don't think most of us realize just how much.

Earlier in my career, a previous employer gave each employee a card on which the following was written:

Watch your thoughts, they become words; Watch your words, they become actions; Watch your actions, they become habits; Watch your habits, they become character; Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

The media we consume has the power to influence what we think and, therefore, our behavior, our character, and our destiny.

Fred Rogers understood this. He saw the tremendous potential of television to be a powerful influence for good – or for evil – in human society. He figured out a way to use television to help and educate young children in a marvelous way. Ironically – or perhaps not so ironically – although he created one of the most popular and beloved children's television shows of all time, which aired for 30 minutes each weekday for decades, Rogers himself rarely watched television. According to his biography, as a young man he'd watch The Alfred Hitchcock Hour once a week – but only the beginning where Hitchcock would speak directly to the audience, then he'd turn the TV off. At one point he also removed the radio from his car. Later, as he and his wife Joanne were raising their two sons, they limited their television time to one hour a day.

Today, we are swimming in more media – and more mediums for its delivery – than ever before. And I feel like most of us are drowning in it without even realizing it. It's influencing our thoughts and behaviors in ways we don't fully perceive.

Just this past week, there was a horrific school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee. It's been one of the top stories on every national and local news outlet the entire week. It has been sensationalized in news and social media – rehashing every morbid detail, frequently displaying the pictures of those who were killed. But even more disturbing, putting front and center the name and picture of the shooter who was eventually killed by police, diving into their background and motives, showing text messages the killer sent just before the shooting, showing security and police body camera footage. Naturally, this incident has also been prominent on popular social media networks and has been politicized on all sides. The modern news and social media cycle has become shifting from one outrageous, sensationalized incident to another with no reprieve. It's about capturing as much attention as possible for as long as possible because that's how news outlets and social media “influencers” make money.

Fred Rogers was deeply concerned about the media trends he was seeing in his own day. I can only imagine how horrified he would be with the current state of things. There are still good people trying to do good things through media, but they have long been the exception, not the rule.

I believe our collective obsession with sensational, exploitative, and addictive social, news, and entertainment media is having a detrimental impact on our emotional and mental health and is warping our perspective and sense of reality as a society.

In the face of this, I feel that I need to drastically limit or even eliminate some of the electronic media to which I have become accustomed, perhaps even addicted.

I have already been making significant strides in this direction in recent years. It's time to take the next dramatic step.

It is my hope that limiting and being more intentional about the media I consume will help me be more stable mentally and emotionally, have a healthier perspective on life, and feel better about myself and others.

#media #SocialMedia #life #DigitalMinimalism #intentionism