It occurred to me as I was tossing and turning in bed last week that my daily media consumption might be taking a toll that no amount of supposed media literacy can remedy. As anyone who has fallen asleep with visions of Twitter Feeds flashing before their eyes, or hears phantom Facebook Chat 'pops' when they walk away from their computer, or perks to attention upon perceived cell phone vibration knows, these symptoms are just a few of many that are greatly impacting the way people socialize, do business, and ultimately, are perceiving themselves. I've been operating for a long time under the assumption that if I educate myself, I will avoid technophobia, engaging in only the healthiest consumption practices, but now I find myself questioning the soundness of that logic (in blog form, no less).
The late communication theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote "When you are on the phone or on the air, you have no body." The saying can extend to being online (or when you have a Kindle, you have no book), but I think the essence of the argument lives in transference of space from real to imagined. For an actor (or writer or salesperson or musician anyone looking to proffer a specialized skill) the insistence is that you must occupy and exploit multiple media channels, flooding the market with your "brand" and reaching as many potential customers as possible. With LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, LA Casting, Actors Access, Casting Frontier, Backstage, YouTube channels, and a personal site becoming de regueur, that's a lot of upkeep. Multiply that by two day jobs in front of one (or more) computers, and we're talking about a lot of outer-body experience. Yoga and hiking and laying back with a good book are no longer extracurriculars; indeed, they are often the only times we may fully exist in our present bodies.
The obfuscation of the self and the resulting psychic anxiety aren't the worst reported symptoms of an over-mediated person (to clarify: media, to me, is any conduit of communication symbols that comes between human to human verbal & physical interaction). An article printed in the Hindustan Times (online of course, as recommended by a friend on Twitter) introduced me to the recently-coined term 'Smartphone Orphans.' Apparently, a generation of children are being classified under this title after fighting their parent's Blackberries and iPhones for attention. If you consider yourself exempt from that category because you're still rockin' your flip phone, ask yourself how long you can go without your cell or checking your e-mail before you start feeling anxious. According to a survey by AOL, 46% of survey participants "described themselves as 'hooked' on e-mail. Nearly 60% had checked e-mail in the bathroom, 15% checked it in church, and 11% had hidden the fact that they were checking it from those around them." If people admitted the same thing about checking their stove to make sure it is off, or washing their hands, or looking at their porn collection, they would be considered ill. Can the same be said of us?
And what options have we Gen Y-ers as we develop our fledgling careers? Simultaneously blessed with intrinsic internet savvy (I have a conspiracy theory that AIM was government training ground for militant hyper-humans) and cursed by it (how do you monetize these skills? how many more twitter feeds can a person run solely because they are the only ones willing to confront the technology?), we must find ways to coexist with ourselves and our mediated presence. We must create built-in reminders that we are not our profile photos (or dopplegangers of such), that our relationships are not built on GChat, that our personalities can't really be judged by a "like" or RT button, and that our skills can't really shine until we (hopefully) make it into the audition room.
Rather than embrace a Neo-Luddite mentality, I'd like to open the forum for discussion with you, the kind people who have made it to the end of this post. What strategies do you employ re: media consumption and interaction? Feel free to bitch, moan, and call me paranoid if you like. Just remember one other McLuhanism: A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted for insight and understanding. Thanks for reading!
For more random media stats, check dis out.
If this post has convinced you to disengage from your mediated existence, consider Web 2.0 Suicide Machine. According to the site, " A bit drastic, yes, but they've got a point.
Above photo by Bob Winters, from Betty's Summer Vacation by Christopher Durang, directed by Dennis Delaney. Yes, those are three nipples designed to look like television nobs. Best. Costume. Ever.