Okay. So I said it aloud—or at least typed it. Media addiction. Call the devil by its name? Media. Addiction. What is it exactly? Well, to be frank, I’m not exactly sure. However, I do have a workmate who calls it “going down the rabbit hole.” Meaning start on Instagram, roll to Twitter, then over to Facebook, finally ending up on a must-see Netflix original series like Coisa Mais Linda (or Girls from Ipanema), and where has the day gone?
Recently, a friend mentioned a twelve-step program called Media Addicts Anonymous. (https://www.mediaaddictsanonymous.org). She wasn’t, to my knowledge, a media addict, and neither am I. We were discussing the significantly large number of twelve-step programs now available for the growing number of addictions, compulsions or behavioural/mental health problems that have spawned from the original and well-respected Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
AA promotes a twelve-step program for those with alcohol addiction. Who doesn’t know someone whose life hasn’t been turned around by putting down the booze and attending AA—using the twelve steps? Or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), for that matter?
The list of twelve-step programs seems endless, from Overeaters Anonymous to Gamblers Anonymous to Financial Underearners Anonymous and so on. There are even twelve-step programs for Love Addicts and Workaholics. The twelve-step method seems to be a highly regarded panacea for all sorts of issues.
However, after we spoke about it, the twelve-step program on my radar was Media Addicts Anonymous (MAA). Never one to shy away from research, I found a few podcasts and listened in. The ones I happened on seemed to be from the woman or women who founded the program, and the process of discovery and recovery was profound. Most of them seemed to have had childhoods that started in or about the 1950s—not too dissimilar to mine, 1955.
Thinking of the trajectory of media can be overwhelming. Setting aside books, cinema and radio for the moment, television came into its own in the 1950s. I can’t recall a home without a television, and while my father called it the “boob tube” and didn’t make a habit of watching it, he never seemed bothered when my brothers occupied themselves on a Saturday morning for hours with cartoons. My grandmother, more judicious in her telly watching, revered Walter Cronkite, the odd informative documentary and of course, any television presentation of The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz, Pollyanna or Gone with the Wind.
Today, while I don’t have a telly in every room—with a large screen only in the kitchen and family room—we do have access to online/streaming/TV everywhere via phone or laptop. This made me think. Always one to calculate my son’s growing screen time over the years, especially from the time when I could no longer ask that the phone be turned over in the evening, I never actually calculated my own.
I did notice, however, that I would sometimes fall asleep with my iPhone on my pillow, wake up with a headache, and yet still would look for a soothing podcast or a back-to-sleep, streamed meditation.
When The Social Dilemma, a Netflix original, aired somewhat recently here in the UK, I sat mesmerised. I did start to tabulate my hours, minutes, time spent on screen: more than I imagined. I also reconsidered my “sleep problem.” As a result, I decided to not only turn my phone off at night, but to move it to another room entirely.
I also disconnected the WiFi in the evening, which of course, caused a bit of a “dilemma” in my house! However, after turning off my phone, I discovered that I didn’t have a sleep issue. Back were my six, seven, eight hours of sleep a night.
I don’t know whether there is any connection with iPhone white light, blue light, radiation, stimulation, or overstimulation. Using myself as a guinea pig, however, I did find out that there are great benefits for me to putting the screens away, like a good night’s sleep! While I have never hesitated to go outside in nature, indeed, it is near impossible with four four-footed animals to not go out; I did have to ask myself how much screen time I was clocking. I also had to remind myself that there were two sides to that screen, as if I didn’t already know, and I had to ask myself which side I actually wanted to live on.
The research seems clear: media can be an addiction. Like any other addiction, it prevents maturation, an ability to solve problems, to grow up and deal with life on life’s terms. What a two-edged sword we have in our hands!
I wish you a wonder of a September, filled with all the enticing bits, like cooling weather, fresh school supplies, the odd rugby game, glowing embers in an evening fire (with or without the telly) and the knowledge that it all comes down to you—the life you choose to lead, on this side of the screen or the other.
Media: use it, or it uses you.
Take care, use caution, and watch out for that slippery slope that might just lead down the rabbit hole.