Minded by Media

Minded by Media For many years I lauded the potential of communications technology to correct the isolating and alienating forces of contemporary life. I saw global media as the cure for narrowly defined viewpoints and as the best way to unite people around the world in conversation and collaboration toward mutually rewarding pursuits. I thought interactive media would allow ever-expanding opportunities for citizens to become content creators rather than simply mindless consumers. The positive potential of global media is still here but, judging from the ways in which commercial interests have monopolized it, it is an unrealized – and perhaps unrealizable – potential. What has become most apparent regarding contemporary media is how manipulative and downright coercive it can be. The influence of multi-million dollar marketing research is all-pervasive. Measurable responses to particular forms of suggestion and manipulation, from the placement of products and their attendant messages to psychological cues that trigger our unconscious impulses, are strategically mapped on to every sector of the marketplace. And as a result of the always-on, always connected aspects of personal electronic technology, the marketplace is everywhere. We are rendered highly susceptible to suggestion and we are made to feel inferior and unsatisfied in ways that extend into our personal and social lives. Judging from two recent books on the subject, I am not alone in my suspicion that what was once viewed as something having a unique potential to free us has become something that is well on its way to capturing and perhaps enslaving us. Douglas Rushkoff, a long-time enthusiastic advocate of the liberating potential of contemporary media has changed his tune for the new millennium. In his well-conceived book, Coercion, Rushkoff reports with detailed specificity as he argues his case against the pernicious takeover of global media by marketing technologies. He includes everything from interactive content, entertainment media, concerts, sporting events, and news programs to the planograms used to place products before us and guide our impulses toward instant gratification. We Know What You Want : How They Change Your Mind, by Martin Howard (with a foreword by Rushkoff) functions as a companion piece to Coercion in much the same way that, nearly forty years ago, Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore’s, The Medium is the Massage, functioned as a companion piece to McLuhan’s large-scale media study entitled, Understanding Media. The recent work of Rushkoff is a clarion call (perhaps a cry in the wilderness) for media literacy. If we are not educated in ways that allow us to understand what is happening to us as a result of inhabiting a reality that is rendered up to us via media we will succumb to it as inevitably as moths drawn to a flame. The scale and scope of the collective forces of big-budget advertising and psychological-motivation research are far too strong to be experienced without a critical perspective. Sadly, media literacy is not a significant enough aspect of our educational system. Children are left without critical contexts to experience the onslaught of media messages directed at them. They are increasingly manipulated into becoming demanding consumers of hundreds of things they do not need and would do better without. As we are several generations into this trend, there are many millions of adults who have been guided into an eternal state of frustrated and needy post-adolescence by a lifetime of exposure to media marketing and influence. The books listed above can serve as excellent introductions to the subject. In the absence of public education self-education is required. Arming oneself with a knowledge of the techniques used to coerce us into becoming something that we would prefer not to become is the best strategy for regaining some personal control over managing one’s conditioned impulses and manipulated desires. I suggest we start putting in some personal work on resisting the lure of mindless consumerism and induced low self-esteem by learning what is being done to us while we are being informed and entertained. Ultimately, we serve each other by this process since much of what we are and how we behave is socially regulated. A media-savvy population is the best antidote for a media-created worldview.

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