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America & Media:
The Ultimate Love/Hate Relationship

This episode of living in pause mode has put one important facet of Americana into focus, and it’s this: Our love-hate relationship with the media may be our ultimate dysfunction.

True, it’s progress that we now have a public acknowledging it is held captive by the day’s headlines — that’s a notion that was summarily pooh-poohed by the masses during what can now only be referred to as the normal age we used to know. Little if any thought was given to how our public chooses a media outlet in which to turn to for the news and information that shapes our thoughts and, by extension, our lives. Maybe it’s what was in the house where we grew up. Maybe it’s what was within reach at the checkout line of our favorite grocery store. Maybe it’s something we simply “liked” and the whole thought process behind its usage ended there.

Perfect Pandemic Storm

But after spending weeks in isolation, our primary tools for survival — social distancing, sheltering in place and technology — have worked together, in sort of a perfect pandemic storm, to illustrate the importance pure connectivity plays in our lives.

Sure, for a time we were oblivious, too busy baking bread, walking the neighborhood, and organizing closets. But as time passed, somewhere around the time we entered week five, the smell of bread no longer wafted through the air. A new problem emerged, as weight gain known as the “quarantine 15” started to settle in. You’d think that particular problem would have been offset by all that walking — but our outdoor activity quickly waned. Week one saw an endless parade of strangers walking past my kitchen window. By the beginning of week three, we were back to our regularly scheduled programming, which is to say, only those who walk their dogs are now seen venturing outside. All things considered, what we witnessed is what happens inside every gym every January.

Media as Biology?

And now that the closets are in fine order, we’re left only with our thoughts, and the endless headlines filling out the empty spaces in our homes. In essence, we have nowhere left to hide.

If geography is destiny, is media now our biology?

Various sources report that since 2018, Americans have been spending more than 11 hours a day with media, traditional and social. Ironically, it’s taken the nonstop coverage of the coronavirus for us to wake up to the notion that too much news is a bad thing for our psyche. Pew Research reports seven-out-of-10 Americans are finding we now actually need to take breaks from the news. Why?  Our own media habits are either resulting in our moods running afoul, or confusion over whether or not we should believe the information we choose to place in front of us.

But the real question we should be asking ourselves is this: Is using media for 11 hours a day a habit, or is it actually an addiction? All signs point to the latter which, unfortunately, also successfully explains why and how we’ve become so horrifically splintered in our ideologies. Right now, it’s hard to understand what, exactly, America means, if it still means anything at all. Perhaps it’s truer to say have we simply dissolved into 50-something states, sharing little more than a border between us.

It’s quite a predicament for a country whose very foundation is built upon freedom of the press, isn’t it?

– Jaci Clement, jaci@fairmediacouncil.org

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