Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A reflection on Mass Media

A little while back, a professor of mine required us to record our use of mass media and our subsequent reflections on it--first as we used in normally, then as we fasted from it, and finally after spending time ( a few hours) in nature removed from secondarily sourced information. Then we had to write a paper about it. While there are some key insights that I think I made in the paper, I happened to really enjoy keeping the media journal itself , so I've decided to post it first and then later to post the analysis. I kept the journal in conjunction with reading The Age of Missing Information by Bill McKibben which may have something to do with a hippie-ish undertone in the journal. Enjoy.

        Since Monday was a Holiday, we slept in until noon. I noticed that often times my leisure time seemed to be a choice between a form of mass media or sleep. Other options just didn’t seem to appeal to me, perhaps because I was tired of thinking, and wanted to do something mindless.
After we woke up we entertained ourselves with our laptops, I spent sometimes “pinning” things on Pinterest and talking to friends on Facebook. After that we called my husband’s parents and chatted, and then headed to campus to play Basketball and Tennis. Throughout the week, I noticed my mind “ shifting” --whenever I did something which required focus, it seemed that while with certain activities, such as sports ( which I have been trained to give full focus to) it was easy to make the “shift”, there were other times when my attention span seemed to have shortened.
We got home around five and I read a book (Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder), while my husband played an online game. One of the worst effects of mass media is this isolation from each other. Perhaps because mass media caters to specific demographics, my husband and I rarely agree on a t.v. show or even movie, and often participating in mass media together is the result of a compromise. As such, our frequent use of media often ends up separating us from each other.
At 7:30 we went to the BYU-H basketball game , after the game we went home, sat at separate computers and updated our blogs ( his about endurance running, mine a lifestyle blog with some of cultural and communication theory mixed in). We went to bed around midnight.
Tuesday morning, I would say, was a low point. The first thing I did upon waking was to get on Pinterest. I then checked my Facebook before heading out for a run, I took scriptures with me in my backpack and found myself alone , far behind the school. I do this every so often as a way of feeling closer to God, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I sometimes feel as though if I could just stay a little longer , answers would come. After getting ready I went to classes until 1:20 ( there was actually some Facebooking mingled in during my lunch hour)
After that I did a favor for my dad, came home and cooked dinner—something I have been spending an increasing amount of time on, though it worries my husband—“ You spend a lot of time on cooking, what about your homework” ( as if cooking was the least productive thing I was spending my time on).  I like cooking, and I have recently become more and more enchanted with buying local vegetables and fruit. Of course this is the reason my cooking has required more preparation, it takes a surprisingly long amount of time to cut corn off the cob and into the stir-fry when you were previously dumping a can of eerily yellow kernels in. Interestingly, one of my favorite parts of preparing food lately has been all that vegetable cutting. The rhythmic back and forth gives me a lot of time to think, un-beleaguered by pop up ads or the like, and there is something about it that feels more real.
My husband stayed up late Tuesday night wiping the hard drive of an old laptop so he could send it to his brother as a birthday present. Unfortunately I have trouble sleeping with the light of the laptop screen shining, and also the bed seems cold without my sweet companion in it, so I stayed up late by consequence.
The late night did nothing in the way of encouraging my timely arrival to my 6:30 a.m. EXS class, but I woke and made my way to the gym nonetheless. After my class I went home and slept until a work meeting at 9 a.m. From the meeting, I went straight to class and didn’t get back until 4 p.m.
After class I did a lot of reading (homework), and then took to Pinterest and Facebook once more. I edited the blog post I had made on Monday, and then I watched a t.v. show on the internet. I notice that my use seems to happen for longer periods of time when I am stressed out or busy, it’s as though I am looking to distance myself from my own life in some way or another when I use these technologies.
On Thursday I tried to cut down on my media consumption and didn’t really notice too much of a difference, I went to class as always, and then I worked from 1:40 – 5 p.m. ( an unavoidable form of mass media as I work for a newspaper) I had class again from 5-7, after which I went home and spent a lot of time cooking, I prepared a meal for my husband ( who had not been home from campus yet that day) then did prep work for the next few days, I sat cutting those vegetables and time seemed to pass more slowly and more quickly at the same time.
*One change I did appreciate occurred during lunch, without a computer in front of me my husband and I spent the hour talking.
       Friday was challenging for me. Though I was able to spend my time in more relevant pursuits—I went running with a friend, called my mom, went to work, went to school, went to lunch with my sister after shopping at the Farmer’s Market—I found myself feeling homesick, I longed to check Facebook to see the pictures of my friend’s baby I knew would be posted, to check my sisters’ status and see how her puppy was doing, to go on Pinterest and see if any of my friends had found any of my pins to be funny, or stylish, or fulfilling enough to repin them. Though today was the only day I had talked to my mother, it was a conversation cut short by all the running around during the day. I had classes to attend and errands to run, and though I would much rather have been talking to he, I wasn’t able to do so for a fulfilling amount of time. As people move away from their homes, personal conversation becomes more difficult. In contrast, social media allows those three minute check-ups throughout the day. A conversation that stretches across several days even, whereas a telephone call or letter takes up a definite amount of time. This is social media’s greatest purpose in my opinion, while I agree that it is often shallow, superficial, insufficient, I feel like social media is where my generation gets their sense of community and belonging, it allows us to remain human in a rapidly mechanized world. Interestingly, there are people with whom I am better friends with via facebook and blogging than I am face-to-face, in fact it can even be awkward to encounter them face-to-face. This community is strange and lacks a firm anchoring in reality but it is a community…my community.
After getting to a late start I made my way toward the Laie Falls trailhead. I went alone, and after a lot of thought decided to insure I walked most of it by wearing canvas shorts…I often run nature trails and I am happy that I am privy to such frequent unmediated contact with nature, but I figured it was about time to slow things down and smell the roses literally…well kind of I didn’t see any roses but I did smell lots of other flowers. As I made my way toward the start of the trail I noticed several groups of people and even more cars parked along the way. I was disappointed because I wanted to be able to process nature in my own way, without being limited by social conventions. As I trudged (a little grumpily) up the familiar path I tried to make the best of the experience by looking more carefully at my surroundings, it took little effort to discover a second, less worn trail meandering off to the left, I glanced back and then stepped happily onto my little secret trail.
As I walked I made a very conscious effort to really take things in. I heard birds singing, and I listened for the sound of their weight on nearby branches I could tell which direction they were heading by listening closely as the sound grew more and more imperceptible. As I walked I took big deep breaths through my nose trying to figure out exactly what it was I was supposed to smell. Smell , I think , is the sense that is the most neglected in media, as I actually focused on smelling things I was surprised at what I found. I could smell whether two trees were of the same () , I walked by one tree and smelled the distinct smell of death , I looked over and saw that right at nose height a branch had been cut clean off.
Walking down the trail I heard a bird singing.Though I couldn’t see it,  I peeped back at it by pressing my lips together tightly. Suddenly the bird flew gracefully down, circling around me once and landing on a nearby branch. It was a beautiful bird, jet black with a tiny spout-like tail , white on the underside. Right in the middle of his wings was a perfect, white circle. I whistled at him, he made a sort of quacking sound and I tried to imitate it. As this exchange went on he hopped closer and closer to me, flashing his little tail and then he started to sing. His throat swelled up as he trilled away weaving a fantastic tune with intricate warbles and masterful crescendos. I stood there, entranced, and then almost unwillingly I took a step forward. He flew away hurriedly ,high up into the branches. Dismayed, I sang out my own tune, borrowing largely from my dear friend Snow White who, as we know , talks to birds this way. He wasn’t buying it, though I could hear branches high up creaking as he hopped from one to the other, he didn’t come down again. I kept walking, but this time I sang to myself softly, trying to do what the bird had done, trying to create my own fantastic melody. As I walked I heard branches creak here and there, and birds wings flutter from branch to branch, the woods were listening, and the birds were following me.
Walking slowly along the path I thought about the little black bird, I wondered what kind of bird he was exactly, and if my experience was verifiable. I was on the point of resolving to check the internet when I got home when I decided against it. I knew what happened with that bird. I knew he had listened to me, that he had sung to me. I knew what he looked like, I had a perfect picture of him there in my head and if I came back this way and saw a bird like him, I would know how to talk to it. What more good could the information from the internet give me? Perhaps I would learn from a birding website what the name of his (breed) was, what kind of food he liked, exactly what his mating call sounds like, perhaps I would find out that these birds are inquisitive little creatures who like to sing but mostly just mimic other birds, whatever I learned, it probably wouldn’t help to forge as deep or as meaningful a connection as I already had, and whatever I learned it wouldn’t be nearly as specific or relevant to my exact location, to this exact trail, to this exact bird as if I just plain old watched him.
The trail sort of petered out amongst a grove of old and weepy looking pine trees, The ground was covered with their dry, needles which carpeted the floor and muffled the sound of my footsteps. I looked up and saw a flash of orange. Two mountain bikers were pedaling uphill on a trail that appeared to run parallel to mine ( which was getting harder and harder to distinguish thanks to the pine needles)
I finally got the courage to venture from the well worn trail I had connected into, I could see some different colored trail markers in the distance.  I took care to remember my surroundings and then I sat down and slid down the steep hill. The pine needles slowed my momentum and it felt exactly like sliding down a big slide at a water-park or playground, minus the static shock.
After making my way first down and then back up a neighboring peak, I found an incredible view that offered a brilliant perspective. The thing about real-life views, versus those presented to us in mass media, is that they are 360 degrees. I could turn around and take in so much, and gain an even greater perspective just by pivoting from one foot to the other. After taking it all in, I found a flat area and knelt down and prayed. This wasn’t the first time I had been moved to do this by the perspective a mountain top view had offered, but it had been a while since I had been willing to take the time and energy to put myself in such a position, and that slightly awkward but oh-so-welcome feeling that you only get when venturing to offer your personal prayer aloud came upon me. I felt myself being pulled in two directions. On the one hand, I felt out of my element, the usual organization and structure of personal prayers is vastly different from what I was now doing, and on the other hand , the few times I had done it this way had yielded sweeter, more sacred, less tainted feelings. What I have come to conclude is that “nature” doesn’t presuppose anything. There is no identity conflict, no cultural indoctrination, no one telling me I’m brainwashed or stupid or wrong or right. It’s just me. Just me an endless, untainted, complete flow of information that allows me to make decisions based on what I see and come to know for myself.

Pretty Exciting stuff right?


  1. I really enjoyed reading this. The trails, the bird--yes!--your prayer place. I was right there with you. My experience of being drawn away from loved ones by media matches yours. Trying to imagine what my first year of marriage would have been like with internet. Thanks for sharing. I have to thank media too, former this chance to connect with you. :-)


About Me

My photo
I am a videographer located in Goodyear, Arizona. Visit my site to check out my best work and the Stories Told blog.