Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Media mania

In a study that surprised me at first, but that became all too believable after I thought about it for a while, Ball State's Center for Media Design reported late last month that our No. 1 activity as a society - surpassing even sleeping - is using media devices. To think that it should come to this. As recent as half a dozen decades ago - before television, before phones were ubiquitous, when radio was still mostly treated as a focal point, not background noise - it would've been shocking to think that media would so consume our lives.

Of course, it's not all bad: We have never before been so connected to whatever it is that interests us. And that's key: what interests us, not necessarily the world at large. Because what media have done is allowed us to choose like never before who we want to talk to and when and where, what we want to listen to, what we want to explore, what kind of news we'd like to read, perhaps to the detriment of a more generalist approach to absorbing the current moment. We can be entirely consumed by various forms of media, and yet at the same time - because of our careful selection - NOT hear much if anything about, say, the earthquake in Central Asia.

All of which reminds me that as much as I love being plugged in, as much as I love having all my interests piqued by daily and intraday reports and dispatches and snippets, the unplugged world holds an even greater poignancy.

Speaking to people face to face, whether friends or family or work colleagues ... listening to live music ... watching live theater ... singing in church ... eating a meal without the TV on ... walking outside, especially in the greener spots ... reading a book ... exploring places in person ... enjoying your health or learning to bear things gracefully ... just closing your eyes and listening to your breathing.

It can be hard to focus on these things - especially when you live alone and find that media can be ways to keep you company or connect you to others - but tuning out at times is important, even vital, to staying balanced.

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