Emanations of the Philosophy of Life Instinct
The world is on the brink of disaster if we go by what daily TV and newspapers tell us. We know things are not so dire but still can’t look away. And who hasn’t felt like lashing out at some blatantly offensive instant message and realised they’re getting triggered about things that don’t matter? Yet, we can’t resist checking out our notifications and feeds. Barring a few tribes in the deep forests of the Amazon, Indonesia, or remote pacific islands, none of the 7+ billion people on the planet is insulated from media. It has tremendous power to influence our lives.
I know media is a powerful extension of speech and writing for rapid and wide transmission of information, ideas, and coordinated action. It’s now integral and ubiquitous for humans, like clothing and medicine. The democratic aspirations of the Arab Spring were catalysed by social media, as was the #MeToo movement. Social media groups are boosting much social work and many businesses.
But these are not simply black and white stories, and lately, I’ve felt more and more that media’s damaging aspects are overshadowing its merits. It has undoubtedly harmed people and society in many ways already, and its reach and power are accelerating exponentially. A strong concerted movement is urgent and necessary to stop it from becoming more destructive than fruitful.
Most of us now know media’s gifts and issues to some extent. We can study and compare them, but this essay focuses on reducing the risks, so it will suffice to list the good and bad for a nuanced solution.
(I am using the term Media to cover Mass Media and Social Media — Newspapers and Magazines, Radio, Television, Cable, Streaming, Advertising, and Social Media in its many forms. Mass and Social Media have a lot in common, although they differ in their speed, directness, and reach.)
Let’s scan the media’s good and bad aspects summarily.
Media’s Positive Powers
Here are the vital powers of media that we must safeguard and nurture in Media 2.0.
- It promotes business and increases productivity through rapid group and one-to-one communication, finding, sharing, discussion, and decision-making.
- It gives everyone a voice, especially the poor and semi-literate.
- It connects people who would otherwise be lonely or have few friends and helpers.
- It can save people in life-threatening situations.
- It encourages art and culture.
- It promotes creativity.
- It boosts general knowledge and literacy.
- We are increasingly using it for schooling and higher education.
- It is an effective channel for customer service.
You can glance at the article below and many others like it.
You’ve probably heard about some of the negative effects social media can have on our lives. And while they may be…
Media’s Dark Side
Let’s scan the problems of media a little more extensively. For this, we can use the categories into which all human activity and concerns fall — 1) Mental health, 2) Physical Health, 3) Social Cohesion, 4) Societal Systems, and 5) The Environment.
Media 2.0 must curtail the following issues that arise from being in the wrong hands and through overuse.
Media wrecks social cohesion
- It threatens coexistence by providing extremists, racists, separatists, and other dangerous fringe elements with an audience and attention.
- It weakens social bonds by spreading bigotry, discrimination, insularity, ‘othering’, and hatred.
- It mobilises mobs for anti-social activities.
- It replaces deep and robust social networks with shallow and poor encounters.
Media damages societal systems
- It threatens democracy through designed misinformation during elections and insurrection against elected governments.
- It compels media corporate interests to override public welfare.
- It causes damaging stock market fluctuations unrelated to the fundamentals of markets and businesses.
- It denies minorities’ rights by misusing the majority’s voice and power.
- The already powerful exploit it to their advantage.
- It affects the quality of education through distraction and reduced mental effort.
- It reduces cultural diversity through homogenisation.
- It facilitates infidelity.
Media harms our minds
- It creates an addiction to the constant feeds and momentary pleasures of likes and being ‘followed’.
- It sets off emotional triggers and leads to poor listening, egotism, anger, frustration, misunderstanding, confusion, and ‘flaming’.
- It increases stress as we doom-scroll the inevitable flood of bad news to which we are instinctively attracted.
- It dents self-esteem through constant comparison and false images of happiness.
- It restricts reading, imagination, and creativity by sucking away time and reducing focus and concentration.
- It enables sexual depredations through grooming, stalking, harassment, blackmail, revenge porn, etc.
Media harms our bodies
- It promotes obesity by replacing physical activity with the consumption of media and participation in it.
- It creates back and neck problems.
- It strains our eyes and deteriorates our vision.
- It leads to self-harm from body-shaming and other unrealistic expectations of perfection.
Media damages the environment
- Media generates greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing, using, and servicing end-user devices, networks, and storage. Media-related emission is already about 7% and increasing rapidly.
- Metals and precious metals are consumed heavily in media-related equipment and significantly pollute land and water.
Please glance at the articles below and others like them.
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Pathways to benevolent Media 2.0
When I took a broad look at our evolutionary state as individuals and the social networks and management institutions we have developed, I found humanity has the following five big levers for reducing media’s harmful effects. We need to apply the first five deliberately, while the sixth will happen naturally.
1. Government Regulation
Careful regulation of media is right and rife to be in the ambit of government, unlike many others where government should not be involved. Laws and regulations can curb and avoid the unethical and criminal use of Mass Media and Social Media.
It’s not easy to lay down the rules for media. It’s as complicated as controlling the application of other powerful inventions of humanity, such as genetic engineering, cloning, atomic weapons, fertilisers, pesticides, plastics, etc.
The challenges are many as there has to be a balance between:
- Freedom of speech vs incitement to hatred and violence
- Protection of privacy vs preventative surveillance
- Anonymity vs disclosure
- Commercial interests vs social responsibility
- Campaigning vs manipulation
- Advertising vs falsehood
Europe is leading the way in defining reasonable and adequate regulations for all forms of media.
Audiovisual policy in the EU is governed by Articles 167 and 173 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union…
The Council of Europe recognises that, to guarantee the existence of a wide range of independent and autonomous media…
Totalitarian China has reached an extreme condition in the curtailment of the content and scope of its media. For us, it is a philosophical problem, but for the citizens of China, it is as real as it gets in its negative impact on their minds, bodies, culture, creativity, growth, and happiness. The people of North Korea, Russia, and other totalitarian or semi-totalitarian states suffer from the same deprivation of the great benefits of media as the authorities fear its power and suppress it.
So we have to get governmental control just right to avoid killing the goose.
It doesn’t work, but we can’t completely discard it. Government-controlled media are inconsequential in free societies. If a commercial mass media or social media company finds a way to curb the worst excesses of its service, it would be admirable and worthy of admiration and adoption. We can only hope we’ll come across such unicorns.
We should introduce Media Studies as a mandatory subject from class 9 to high school. Systematic and constantly updated courses that teach older children and adolescents the benefits and dangers of mass and social media will work wonders for their well-being throughout life.
The field is vast and has several dimensions. Over four to six years, schools can teach a different aspect every year. For example, print media and journalism, television and advertising, streaming media, social media, applying media’s powers, avoiding its problems, future technologies, and trends, etc.
A growing field, media studies entails the study of various forms of mass communication. While many used to consider…
Just as media education at an early stage is critical for the well-being of humanity, so is post-graduate research in it. Here are some resources.
Two academic disciplines, political science and mass communication research, intersect at the issue of media and…
There’s a new king in town at the top of the communication & media studies ranking, with the University of Amsterdam…
4. Self-realisation and self-control
Through personal growth, we can understand and avoid the destructive effects of media. Self-awareness, detachment, self-examination, keen observation of the impact of media on ourselves and society, and independent thought give us the ability to reduce its worst influences on our psyche and actions.
With personal growth and maturity, we can balance bad news by consciously noticing the good in the world. And we can reduce the time we spend consuming and participating in social media. Our families, friends, work, and interests can take the place of blind servitude to the attractions of invidious media.
5. Influence and Leadership
We can listen to the voices of sanity and be one ourselves in spreading awareness about the covert and overt problems of media and how we can overcome them. Distributing this article is one of the many ways you can be part of the movement for Benevolent Media 2.0.
Use all your powers of persuasion, emotional intelligence, motivation, leadership, writing, and speaking for Media 2.0. And yes, use mass media and social media for it, within limits. After all, influencing others is one of its most remarkable powers. Let us use it to help others avoid it becoming a quicksand.
Since the beginning of life on Earth, it has continuously evolved through an intimate combination of natural selection and mutation.
Many factors affect the fitness, and hence the survivability, of the genes of individuals, social groups, species, genera, families, etc., up the classification tree. In its use and misuse, media is a characteristic that shapes our species.
And being a robust species with far-reaching effects, our media affect all other life forms on the planet. And it may well affect life forms beyond Earth in the future.
Hominids that developed better tools replaced others and led to us, humans. In the long run, those who use media as a tool better overall will survive more, and their genes will appear more within the species or in a new one.
The ability to communicate with visual and auditory symbols, models, records, and narratives is perhaps the most potent tool of the human mind. It has accelerated its ability to survive and flourish on Earth, but it has a destructive side like many other human capabilities. It is like the challenge of managing democracy, industrialisation, urbanisation, atomic power, genetic engineering, cloning, and medical intervention.
Are we wise enough to harvest the bounties of mass communication while keeping its evil alter ego in a bottle? Only time will tell, but we must make it relate a tale of success by following the paths in this story to a Benevolent Media 2.0.