Do we consume too much media daily? You betcha.
The average American likes his or her smartphone more than friends. Browsing social media sites on a tablet is more important to most people than their careers. Binge-watching streaming television shows is more fulfilling than family interaction.
Indeed, the media world has swarmed over American society. Media consumers are oppressed by a false sense that technical devices and the fantasy-world content they deliver are more essential than engaging other human beings.
The recently released report by Nielsen shows the typical American spends 10 hours and 39 minutes per day absorbing some sort of media. That total is up a full hour from just last year. Keep in mind that this startling total is just an average, so half of all media consumers are spending even more time in the media flood.
Television is still the most-used medium, but smartphone usage and tablets showed the biggest increases. Half of all Americans now have subscription video-on-demand services, such as Netflix or Hulu. Big media corporations dominate not only consumers’ time, but their wallets, too. Subscription video, cable packages, Internet service, smartphone apps and etcetera all come at hefty costs.
Media use absorbs more of people’s time than work, sleep or human interaction. Spending 10 and a half hours a day with eyes glued to a screen leaves less time for home duties, community responsibilities, child rearing and many other things associated with real humanity.
Most media is absorbed in a sedentary manner, of course, so it is little wonder that too many Americans are not physically fit. Few calories are burned punching a remote control or scrolling on a tablet.
The lost time, expense and negative health effects of excessive media usage are enough cause for national concern, but the broader damage might lie in the socio-emotional side of the matter. People need to consider what drives them to obsessively absorb mediated messages in an ever-increasing amount.
The dazzling technologies no doubt have captured the fascination of consumers who feel compelled to have and use whatever new device, service or app that becomes available. But this sort of technological determinism alone can’t explain why so many people seek out and sink into a narcotizing and pretend media universe. Ten and a half hours a day is a lot of time to pass, much of it wasted on mind-numbing electronic images that cordon viewers off from the real world.
Real life is apparently so boring that many Americans would rather sink into a false existence of online video games, get vicarious excitement from bizarre action characters or waste time with vacuous viral videos of cute animals or stupid teen stunts.
Studies show that high media users are more likely to be depressed and frustrated. It is little wonder. Even a normal day-to-day existence looks insignificant compared to super-charged, yet false, existence of a media-saturated universe.
Of course, the great media buffet offers plenty of enlightening and useful content, and what a person watches matters. The dismal ratings of public affairs and educational programming suggest such content is not filling much of the 10 and a half media hours each day.
Sensible proportion has escaped the media consumers of this era. Keeping up with friends and family on social media is great, but spending three hours a day with it is not. Watching an NFL game on TV is relaxing, but watching five games every fall weekend is not sensible. Streaming a movie is a nice way to spend a Saturday evening, but binge-watching three movies in a row is an attempt to escape the world. The old sage who encouraged moderation in all things would be astounded at the excesses in today’s media environment.
The media now own too many Americans. Instead of technology and mediated content helping to enrich a society, it now appears the onslaught of devices and content remove people from each other, causing them to be less grounded.
This dehumanization should concern all of us.
Jeffrey M. McCall is a professor of communication at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., and author of Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.