New Media Diet Paper

It’s safe to say I have grown up with new media. With every birthday, a new form of technology was placed on my gift list. I went from a Sony Walkman, to an mp3 player, to an iPod. From a TV with antenna ears, to a flat screen TV, to a Smart TV. From a razor, to a BlackBerry, to an iPhone. I’ve spent my life ‘plugged in’, welcoming new media each time it advanced, and awaited it’s newest transformation. So taking a break from media for 72 hours proved to be a challenge but it also proved to be a necessary step in the right direction. I realized I rely on new media to gain information on all things I find interesting and things I should be aware of, to communicate with close friends, family, and even acquaintances (if I wish to do so), and new media also provides me with many different forms of entertainment, whether it’s through the television or the Internet. I consume media for large amounts of time for three reasons: information, communication, and entertainment.

There is a need to feel well-informed. Not just about who is dating whom and which celebrity just got a DUI, but about what is taking place at the Olympics and what is the latest Supreme Court healthcare decision. Newspapers, magazines, and books were the old media source of information but now a-days, being well-informed no longer involves buying a subscription to NY Times. As long as you have Internet connection, you will get all the information your heart desires. By following @chicagotribune and @nyimes on Twitter, I gain newsworthy information every couple of minutes. I also gain newsworthy information every time I click on Firefox because Yahoo is my homepage. Both sites encourage, as Douglas Rushkoff explains in Program or be Programmed, “Reading becomes a process of elimination rather than deep engagement” (p. 68). I can read just a headline and summary of a news story and feel informed. Plus, the information in new media can be shared and redistributed among millions of people so it’s often possible to stumble upon news stories on many different social media sites.

Social media sites have given a new meaning to communication. “Facebook-ing” and “Tweeting” are now equivalent to the “I’ll call you later,” we used to say to our closest friends as we stuffed our books into our backpacks and headed towards our parents cars. Now a-days, it’s extremely rare if we hear the voice of a friend on the other end of our iPhones, but we can definitely count on getting a text message from them, or better yet, a Facebook message. Through Facebook we are able to communicate with everyone we have ever met since we were born (as long as they have a profile), in the form of a post, a message, or through chat. Through Twitter we get to follow celebrities, retweet things they say, and even tweet at them. Through Tumblr we get to meet people from all over the world and engage in conversations with them about shared interests, and through Google+ we get to do everything each of these social media sites offer, plus more. Social media has lifted communication barriers and made it possible to communicate even over long distances in the form of Skype and gChat. It’s basically impossible to not be in contact with someone as long as you have a smartphone, Internet connection, and even a television.

In, The Glut of Shows Unwatched, David Carr says, “The great thing about modern technology is that you never have to miss anything on television. That’s also the terrible thing about it.” We no longer have to worry about missing a show when it airs because we can watch it online later in the night, or On Demand later in the week, or just DVR the episode and watch it whenever we want. And if those options aren’t appealing enough, we can always buy it on iTunes, watch it on Hulu plus, or stream it on Netflix from our phones. Basically, if we are seeking entertainment in the form of a movie or TV show, there is a high possibility that we will get to watch what we want to watch, when we want to watch it, in the form we prefer to watch it in. And new media doesn’t stop there, we can read e-books, upload photos, reblog images, retweet/stalk celebrities, update blogs, stream new music, become part of a virtual world, and even shop for new clothes. New media allows for endless hours of entertainment.

Yes new media provides a multitude of positives to society, but technology has changed our lives in negative ways, as well.

We say time is of the essence yet, if I want to be informed about something, I turn to media. If I want to engage in a conversation with someone, I turn to media. If I want to be freed from boredom, I turn to media; hours of my day revolve around new media. Rushkoff says, “Our devices and nervous systems are now attached to the entire online universe all the time” (p. 34). Seconds, minutes, and hours are spent reblogging pictures, sifting through our friends status updates liking and commenting for the heck of it, and playing 20 rounds of draw something with our five closest friends all because our phones allow us to. We have grown so used to constantly being ‘on’ that even our bodies operate in techno-addict ways; each time we commit pleasurable activities (text someone, go on a social media site, or watch television) our ventral tegmental area remembers the activity and produces a noteworthy level of dopamine, the dopamine is sent to the nucleus accumbens and the flow of dopamine regulates the body causing our brains to remind us of pleasure activities and bringing us to want to repeat them over and over again. Rushkoff says, “Our pursuit of choice has the effect of making us less engaged, more obsessive, less free and more controlled” (p. 38). Because we choose to always be ‘on’, our mindset is more focused on media rather than what is happening outside of our media screens. All of our time and energy is given to media and when we’ve finally had our fill, we realize hours have gone by. Hours we can never get back. Minutes of precious time no longer available due to our inability to see the control or stop the control media has over us.

New media submerges us into a realm in which we lose a sense of time for ourselves only allowing us to give all or most of our time to media. Our smartphones are attached to our hands and we respond to every new vibration, our iPad is filled with dozens of applications that scream “play me”, our laptop contains Internet browsers that let us go onto Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest to communicate with anyone and everyone (even those who live a couple of steps down the hall from us). We no longer feel the need for face-to-face interaction because Skype can easily make that happen. Even our TV’s are smart and let users watch shows from Netflix and Hulu if they can’t seem to find anything captivating enough from the hundreds of channels Xfinity provides them with.

We don’t wait on media. It waits on us. It’s always ready to keep us programmed.

I could go to the beach and read a book, I could go to the park and sketch, I could sit in my room and play the guitar, or I could even go to the library and devote my day to the GRE, but instead I choose to spend most of my day using some type of media. Rushkoff says, “The more we learn to conform to the available choices, the more predictable and machinelike we become ourselves” (p. 59). My media actions are robot-like because I comply with everything media offers me and I am so used to this way of life that it all comes natural to me. I have spent many years becoming more and more familiar with different types of technology, not necessarily knowing the codes and wiring inside them that allow them to work, but knowing how to get what I want out the certain forms of media. I always thought I was controlling the media because I turn it on when I want to use it, but I turn it on because I want to use it as an exit, a form of entertainment, or a way to be engaged with something, therefore, it controls me.

A typical day of media use for me consists of using media mainly in the forms of my phone, my laptop, and the television. Throughout the entire day I check my phone approximately every 15 minutes (as long as I am not in class), I go on the internet every time I open my laptop never failing to spend a half hour or longer surfing the ether, and I watch the television everyday, sometimes just having it on to have it on. Compiling all three forms of media, I spend approximately 7-9 hours of my time using media. It feels like three hours tops, but after tracking, the sad truth is that over half of my day goes to media. The realization had a distasteful effect and caused me to acquire anxiety about being away from it for so long.

My diet from media stirred a tornado of emotions from mostly negative at the start, to all-positive at the end. During the first day I craved media, I was tempted to discontinue my participation in the diet, I constantly felt stupid for forgetting my phone and laptop were off, and I was anxious to turn on my phone because I feared I was missing out on things detrimental to my life. During the second day I felt like time was slipping away from me since I wasn’t consistently aware of the time, I was tempted to turn on at least one form of media, I felt naked being outside of home without my phone, and I felt like I had to try hard to keep my thoughts off of the forms of media I was dieting from. In Are You Suffering from Social Media FOMO?, Shea Bennett says, “Technology, which was supposed to make us freer and allow us to do more things, might actually be getting in the way.” Instead of feeling free, I spent 48 hours of my diet feeling disconnected from the world and unprepared to go about my day. It was hard to go from being in the loop to not having access to media that normally kept me in the loop. Surprisingly though, during the final day I felt a complete one-eighty of emotions from the two days prior and I was more at ease with being away from media; I finally felt the benefits of media dieting and I wished I had a couple of days extra to sink into the vacation from media.

In Program or be Programmed, Rushkoff says, “We always have the choice of making no choice at all (p. 55). I’ve spent my life operating on a choice-to-choice basis and all that has gotten me is more forms of media and less time for things that don’t involve media. I feel as though media offers many limiting choices. To tag or not to tag, to update or not to update, to blog or not to blog, to reply or to ignore: the choices is ours, and it’s entirely limiting. If I don’t tag my sorority sister in a picture, she most likely will tag herself (or better yet, one of our 100 other sisters will). If I don’t update my status the less of a presence I will have on Facebook and the less people will know about me, so might as well update. If I don’t update my blog I am going against the purpose of creating it and I might also lose followers, so might as well blog. These thoughts consistently take over my decisions limiting my choices and preventing me from the choice I seem to be forgetting –> none of the above. Dieting from media allowed me to realize that choices can take a back seat or be emptied in the trash every now and then.

Being away from media for 72 hours allowed me to take a break from the ‘plugged in’ culture I’m familiar with and accept changes in my daily routine. Once upon a time, society only used ‘dumb’ phones and televisions weren’t ‘smart’ so it’s possible to survive without media for 24 hours every now and then, but if we plan on dieting occasionally, it’s best to no longer be at the mercy of those who do the programming. Rushkoff says, “Programming in a digital age means determining the codes and rules through which our many technologies will build the future – or at least how they will start out” (p. 145).  It’s safe to say learning how to program is less difficult than it seems, but if we have no desire to build a program with ones and zeros, we should at least become better familiar with the specific biases of the forms of media we use; figure out why we rely on specific forms and what triggers our need to interact with media. We can continue to subordinate ourselves to programs or step up to the challenge and be aware of the way technology is programmed. It’s better to keep up rather than get left behind because the advances in media are only advancing.

In The Bias of Communication by Harold Innis there is talk of time media and space media. Time media allows the physical experience of historical architecture and an understanding of the history of it, while space media allows for the experience of history through texts, images, and history lectures. Both types of media allow ideas to reach others, but time media is more set in location, will last longer, and make stronger connections, while space media can travel far, does not have a lasting ability, and will make larger connections. This is basically saying: if I write out my ideas and try to get them across in a time media fashion, I’m making it possible for my ideas to stick around for a while, but not necessarily making them available worldwide. If I write out my ideas and try to get them across in a space media fashion, I’m making it possible for my ideas to make it out to distant spaces but not necessarily making them available forever. This idea of time media and space media that Innis gave us, has persisted on two separate spectrums for many years, but new media has grown to become less and less separated on the levels of time and space with every advance in technology. Society has prospered since Innis and we now sit comfortably on the common ground that balances between space and time. Specifically, apple has already embraced new media with iCloud (and Microsoft is trying to implement SkyDrive) which serves as a large online storage bin that is accessible from multiple devices, combining both time and space media. In Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan says, “We have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned” (p. 5). We have given in to the social effects of what McLuhan termed the ‘global village’, which is the fast movement of information from all over the world that connects each and every one of us; we are no longer separated rather, connected in time and space.

This ever-present connection on all levels, whether it is time and space, or information, communication, and entertainment, has proven to be of main importance to society. As long as we have our smartphones, we have the world at our fingertips, but we are living a controlled life, so controlled that even our nervous system craves the routine use of media. Because of the constant advance in technology, there is a need to move from the programmed to the programmer and individually learn what triggers our need to consume media. If we see what is behind the curtain and understand the bias of new media, we gain access to the command center of society.

Once we peer past the curtain, it will be easier to realize our lives don’t have to revolve around media. Society has grown used to always being connected but being disconnected isn’t necessarily wrong, in fact, it’s helpful. Rushkoff points out, “The simplest way out is to refuse to be always on. To engage with the digital…can still be a choice rather than a given” (p. 37). Indeed, digital technology is a huge part of our life, but it tends to take away from more important things. Things that used to matter to us before technology took over. If everyone disconnected themselves from digital technology for 24 hours every now and then, many would put themselves at ease and remind themselves that the meaning of life does not involve technology. There is a need to recognize the dislocation from the world that digital media causes and in response, we need to disconnect ourselves from the media in order to reconnect ourselves to the world. It’s possible, we just have to willingly do it.

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