Being mindful of what we are consuming from the media is becoming more and more important in a world that spends up to seven hours a day in front of a screen. (Pew Research) Studies have shown that a vast amount of human values, styles of thinking, and behavior patterns are gained from extensive modeling in the symbolic environment of mass media. (Bandura, 2001) This in turn means that the more people’s images of reality depend on media’s symbolic environment, the greater its social impact. (S. Ball-Rokeach &DeFleur, 1976) Essentially, what we are seeing in the media is becoming who we are. This is why it is so important for us to decide what it is we want to consume in the media in turn deciding what our perspective of reality is and choosing who we want to be within that reality.
As I scroll through media messages, I notice what they are doing to my mind and body. If they are producing feelings and sensations that take me further away from who I want to be, then I distance myself and find a way to approach the information in a healthier more productive way. Messages that invoke fear, despair, division, jealousy, self-judgement and hatred are not serving you. In a study conducted on 153 university students ninety percent said that they had a fright reaction to mass media leaving more than half of the sample with subsequent disturbances in sleeping or eating patterns, and a substantial proportion reported avoiding or dreading the situation depicted in the program or movie and mental preoccupation with the stimulus. (Cantor, 1999) What you are absorbing from the media is changing who you are being in the world, so choose what you absorb with discernment. The fear invoked from media messages can infiltrate into your daily life making you react in ways that create more damage than the actual threat being portrayed. You can inform yourself of what’s going on in the world while choosing to engage with messages that encourage peace, love, acceptance, and unity. Hold your own space of peace amongst the chaos so that we can continue to cultivate the good even when surrounded by disturbing messages.
The unmindful consumption of media can leave us susceptible to propaganda and fear inducing control tactics that create division and the dehumanization of other. Media can alter our own moral sanctions by portraying more acceptable or rewarding outcomes for previously assumed unacceptable behavior. Fear is often used to justify otherwise considered inappropriate or immoral behavior. When the media presents justifications of immoral behavior with evidence of threats and suggested solutions, we are more likely to act against our moral code. It has been found that people will behave in ways they normally repudiate if a legitimate authority sanctions their conduct and accepts responsibility for its consequences. (Milgram, 1974) When we are fed stories of the threats others pose to us we begin to see those people as the inhuman other. We are then offered solutions that may include aggressive behavior on how to mitigate the threat posed by this other justifying immoral behavior as a means to protect ourselves. We then are told that the authority sanctions this behavior meaning that when we partake in immoral acts we don’t have to claim the responsibility. This chain of events is what leads an entire nation into condoning hate, division, greed, and destruction under the pretense that it will protect our own.
Because media is not censored this propoganda can be started by anyone. A Pew Research Center study conducted just after the 2016 election found 64% of adults believe fake news stories cause a great deal of confusion and 23% said they had shared fabricated political stories themselves – sometimes by mistake and sometimes intentionally. This means that we have to be more mindful than ever about what information we are consuming on the internet. We try to recognize the motivating factors behind every message and decide whether or not that message is encouraging behavior aligned with our moral values. This does not mean that we only read things that fit into our current belief system but that we watch the reactions the message creates within us and decide whether or not it is helping us stay in a place of peace, acceptance, love, and understanding.
Because we now have ways to share direct information that is delivered independent of time and space and free of the controls of institutional and monetary gatekeepers we are less dependent on a mediated filter-down system of persuasion and enlightenment. (Bandura, 2001) Social media platforms provide outlets for anyone to share their beliefs and stories allowing us to hear different perspectives and viewpoints. But in order to take advantage of this remarkable gift we have to mindfully reach out to communities of different backgrounds and beliefs striving for understanding. In a study done in 2016 it was found that out of 376 million Facebook users having interactions with over 900 news outlets the majority of people tend to seek information that aligns with their own views. (Schmidt, A.L., Zollo, F., et. al., 2017) It takes effort to engage with difference, but the better we understand the other, the better we understand ourselves leading to more peace and unity in the world.
Five suggestions on how to stay mindful of media consumption
- Before you read, watch or listen to a message from the media pause and observe your motivation for consuming it.
- As you are receiving the content notice what the intention behind the content is. If the intention is not aligned with maintaining well-being and peace then be discerning about what to absorb.
- After you receive the content notice what reactions manifest in your body and mind. Recognize that these reactions will stay with you long after contact with the message. Be aware of how they will affect your interactions with the world.
- If you notice that what you have absorbed from the content is producing negative effects in your body and mind then work on reframing what you received or finding sources that help you relate to the information in a healthier manner.
- Investigate what other sources are saying about the same content. Notice the difference in approach and delivery. As you come in contact with more sources discern which ones help you to receive the information while maintaining a balanced state of well-being.