So my thoughts on a balanced media diet (which sounds so nice and clinical and clean) – there are a few points. First of all, when I talk about media I mean screens – cell phone, television, computer, etc. Media is difficult to pin down but in my mind includes all of that.
So if you had a spectrum and on one end slapped up a sign that said “Noise” and on the other end slapped up a sign that said “If I Don’t Have Something On The Voices In My Head Win” the quest for balance would be the quest for pushing the slider somewhere towards the middle. I think part of balance is being ok with the quiet. Dealing with the iPhone shakes. Resisting the impulse to have noise, whether visual, auditory, or mental, just to have it. There’s boredom, and there’s avoidance, and knowing which is which can be difficulty but extremely helpful in the long run. Enough quiet to know what the heck is rattling around in your brain, but enough noise to stave off the demons (if you are demon-prone, bless you).
Another spectrum might have a sign with “Purposeful” slapped up on one end and “You Don’t Understand, This Next Email Could be THE ONE.” Somewhere in the balance the recognition that every email is not important, every show not unmissable. Put another way, most email is dross, most media cold and still without our life-giving attention invested in it. If you’re looking for a job checking emails compulsively is understandable, if you run the life-support systems for a hospital taking breaks from email too long can actually cost lives. Not so for most of us – we check email like gamblers, waiting for the next email to confirm our existence. Have you ever had a day (usually a weekend) when you didn’t get an email from home or work, and your first thought was that the system was broken? We fool ourselves about how important they are.
Certainly one purpose of media consumption is escapism. Let’s make a spectrum for that. Let’s put up a sign with “Today was rough I need to check out for a while” on one end, and “If I watch this long enough, someone will step forth from the television and solve my problems”. There’s a different between wanting to see a particular show, wanting to catch up with characters or storylines, and avoiding cleaning any of the plates if dishes, ground up crackers, legos, toys, and spilled milk slowly seeping its way into the carpet to feed the great grandchildren of the ants out on your sidewalk who pounce so quickly on Mac and Cheese noodles that make their way out there. Or looking for something cheerful to watch as an alternative to punching a hole in the wall, breaking bones in the hand, then lighting the sofa on fire. Certainly media takes our mind off things but I’ve found it less frequently gives me solutions, just puts the problems gently on the shelf before doing a little dance for me, after which I’m usually left with something between satisfaction and disgust about the dance and disappointment that my problem is still there.
I’m not against watching TV to stave off a depressing mood. I’m not against watching TV to bring on a depressing mood you can sense but won’t come out. But these both presuppose an awareness of a depressing mood, not a false sense of forging relationships with fictional characters designed to engage and placate long enough for you to watch commercials. Balance says, “This is where I’m at – I choose to engage because of it”. Imbalance says, “I engage – when I get around to it, I’ll figure out where I’m at.” It’s getting away from media consumption as a default.
Next time I’ll talk about one strategy I recently used to get some perspective.