Today’s post on Success on the Far Side of Fifty is a discussion based around social media, television and other forms of electronic communication that has infiltrated every portion of life in the developed world. While the title “Is Facebook making you unhappy?” is specifically based upon research that I reference later in the post my concerns with electronic communication are much broader. In fact I have no fundamental issue with Facebook or any other specific platform of electronic communication. However I do have concerns related to modern media in general. Specifically I am concerned with the amount of time people are engaged with electronic media and I am concerned with the constant exposure to messaging while we are plugged in to our electronics.
Historical statistics showed that the average North American spends about 5.5 hours per day watching television. The equates to just over 2,000 hours per year which adds up to about 150,000 hours of television time during our lives. This is time we will NEVER get back. Instead of getting healthy we watch television, instead of connecting with family and friends we watch television, rather than going out and living a real life we watch television.
Our kids and grandkids are even worse off. According to THIS article on the CNN site teenagers spend about 9 hours per day on electronic media. This is a 40% increase over the last few years and makes our generations 5.5 hours per day of television seem rather insignificant.
The other thing that comes with all of our media time is all of the messaging that comes along with it and that it the real focus of todays blog.
Everyone knows that our bodies are hugely impacted by our diet. If we eat and drink the things that are good for us we there is a better chance we will remain healthy and live a long and healthy life. If we eat too much junk food we can become sick, overweight and develop a multitude of health issues including cancer, obesity and high blood pressure.
Yet there are very few people who even consider how they feed their minds as important. They don’t realize that the things they put into their minds are at least as important as the foods they put into their bodies.
In the health and recreation industry we refer to the people who are careful about the foods and liquids they put into their bodies as having “clean” diets. The foods they eat have a positive effect on their bodies.
My notion of “mental hygiene” is about being as careful with what we put into our minds as a fitness fanatic is about their diets.
In my mind electronic media literally pollutes our minds with the equivalent of mental, psychological and spiritual junk food. Just like junk food it is cheap, easily available and has little nutritional value.
We are subjected to news stories that reflect nothing but mayhem, disaster and catastrophe. We see thousands of advertisements depicting people who are happier, sexier and wealthier than us. These people are wearing the clothes, buying the cars and drinking the alcohol that businesses want us to buy. We watch television and movies where the heroes and heroines lead extraordinarily adventures while vanquishing villains against extraordinary odds. Or we can go on line and find what are friends are doing in virtually real time.
The vast majority of the information we take in is prepackaged and filtered with no requirement that we think for ourselves or participate in any meaningful way.
The news is focussed on the negative, the outlandish and the ridiculous because that is what draws viewers. The models and movie stars are photo shopped and body doubled because that is what sells products. The unbelievable plot twists and improbable situations are meant to draw you in to the ongoing soap operas of television because that is what drive ratings. Even the Facebook posts and Tweets form a false sense of connectedness by showing us how interesting our friends lives are when compared to our own.
The problem is that very little of it really matters to us as individuals.
Knowing what movie stars are getting drunk, stoned or divorced has no bearing on my life. Seeing a fictional television personality solve an imaginary crime or escape a made up danger does not change my life circumstance. Even my friends Facebook posts are only occasionally interesting and I get no value what so ever from looking for invisible Pokemon with my telephone.
At best all of this is a distraction from the real beauty, adventure and possibility that life holds for all of us. At worst all of this media exposure can breed unhappiness and discontent by promoting gross consumerism and unrealistic expectations in all aspects of life. Most television programs and movies have taken on the look and feel of commercials that are aimed at selling more cars, clothes, jewelery and anything else that businesses want to sell. But the real truth is that the material goods don’t really make us any happier. In fact bills often keep coming in long after the thrill of having a shiny new trinket has long since passed.
Constant media exposure also breeds hatred and violence as much or more than it creates tolerance and understanding. By showing acts of aggression and hostility committed on the other side of the world media manages to propagate similar activities in our own back yards. If you want to see how divisive electronic media can become just look at the Presidential election in the USA.
The sensationalized 24 hour per day news coverage is aimed at bringing people together. The coverage as it is being delivered is serving only to polarize a population which at times results in anger and aggression.
As always I do try to back up my opinions with facts;
If you want to learn more about the impacts of social media on your happiness check out THIS study called Society’s new addiction; “Getting a “Like” over having a life.”
HERE is another article exploring the correlation between Facebook and unhappiness. The title “Facebook Use Predicts Declines in Subjective Well-Being in Young Adults” should give a hint as to the content and direction.
Finally if you want a much more complete run down on the impact of news media check out THIS article which was written by taken from the book “The Art of Thinking Clearly; Better Thinking, Better Decisions” by Rolf Dobelli. (Published by Sceptre)
My suggestion to everyone is to put down the electronics, turn off the television and reconnect with the real world. Spend time with friends and family, enjoy the outdoors, take the time to look after yourself and learn to live your own life.
Living life through electronics isn’t really living it’s only a cheap imitation.
The key message behind my post is this:
It is up to us as individuals to control how much time and attention we give to everything in our lives. Don’t let social media, television or anything else control your life. Keep that control for yourself.
As always thank you for reading.
If I can help you to make change in your life please feel free to drop me a line. I am here to help.