If the average American adult smoked cigarettes for 11 hours per day, or drank alcohol, or consumed opioids, the U.S. would have a major addictive disease crisis on its hands.
There would be Congressional hearings and legislative proposals. Churches, charities and corporations would be mobilizing all kinds of resources to combat the very tearing apart of the nation’s economic and social fabric.
Yet, according to the latest Nielsen Total Audience Report in 2018, “On average, U.S. adults are spending over 11 hours a day connected to linear and digital media and almost six hours a day with video alone.”
And our only reaction is, “Yeah, so?”
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We are in total, often vehement, denial about our addiction to media. In fact, denial is a classic symptom of addiction. Another classic sign is withdrawal symptoms. Studies have documented anxiety and stress reactions when people, especially kids, are deprived of their smartphones for even short periods.
This is not to say that interacting with media for more than two-thirds of all our waking hours is the same as chain smoking from breakfast to bedtime. But the fact is that prolonged, nearly constant media engagement has not been studied by the Surgeon General and other experts on neurology or human behavior to the same extent that the harmful effects of smoking, drinking and drug use have.
Maybe there are some toxic effects. With so little time left each day for personal, one-on-one interactions with real people, what if our addiction to media harms our relationships with our friends and family members? What if it makes us less capable of forming our own opinions about issues that are important to the country? What kind of signal is the “average American adult” sending to their kids if they spend 11 hours each day with media and 11 minutes with them?
And with everyone similarly “engaged” with media to such an extent that they don’t recognize it as potentially harmful, who is there to do an intervention, like friends might if you had a problem with drugs or alcohol?
The media enable and even encourage this addiction to their products. Does the convenience store where the chain smoker buys several cartons of cigarettes each week refuse to sell them to him? Does the local liquor store stop the alcoholic from purchasing her spirits of choice? Does the opioid pusher say, “Sorry, pal, you’ve had enough.”?
Of course not. And you’re not going to see any warnings on your television, streaming device or computer about the potential dangers of spending too much time using media, either. Quite the opposite, as we are constantly bombarded with advertisements and promotions urging us to consume more of the latest new program – which is a whole lot like the old program.
We need to step back out of the media bubble into the real world every now and then. We need to examine and formally study whether an 11-hour per day addiction that is shared by the vast majority of the population is a healthy thing for society – and for you personally – or not. Dependencies on tobacco, booze or drugs are seen as problems precisely because they are not as pervasive as the grip media seem to have on us.
With media, you may find that at least a little withdrawal is a symptom you can live with.
Steve Napoli is a retired corporate communications executive living on Hilton Head Island.