An Intentional Approach: Changing the Way I Consume Media

Media frames much of how we see the world, so it matters what information we consume and how we consume it, as well as what we contribute.

I’m typing away on my computer at the office when bing! I get a phone alert. I silence it and turn back to my computer. Buzz! My phone vibrates. I ignore it. Buzz! I see in my peripheral vision that my phone display is lit up with a message. I keep working. Buzz! My phone lights up again. I give in and pick up my phone to look at the alerts. A friend updated her status on Facebook. Another friend shared a news article. I also have a CNN news alert…Gasp! The news alert is alarming. I unlock my phone, tap the alert, and being reading the latest news update. Questions and concerns begin popping up in my head and my heart rate increases. I look back at my computer screen and being feeling deflated. I’m now concerned with an array of happenings in the world, and I have lost the focus and motivation that I had just a few minutes ago.

I found myself playing out similar scenarios multiple times a day, maybe even ten or more. I was overwhelmed with information and in the struggle to process it all, I found myself focusing on the stories that stood out the most, which were usually the negative ones. We have so much knowledge in the palms of our hands now, so many tools and resources. But sometimes it’s hard to remember that we are the ones in control. We don’t work for the tools; we are supposed to make these tools work for us.

I’m in full support of being informed and feeling incited to act by things happening in the world, but I realized I had little control over my own exposure to news media. News alerts popped up on my phone automatically and I would read them with little delay. News media provides you with incomplete information and uses the powers of suggestion and implication to help you fill in the gaps on your own, all designed to incite fear and anger that lingers long after you are done reading or watching. Again, I want to be informed, but I wanted more control rather than seeing pop up headlines and getting upset of angry. I didn’t have anything close to a complete picture before plunging down an emotional rollercoaster without being ready for the ride to begin. It’s hard to remain optimistic and approach information clearly and logically when you are constantly bombarded with fearful and discouraging news.

I finally decided to delete news alerts from my phone. Rather than subjecting myself to the whimsy of the media and technology tools, I took back control of when I read the news. I now set aside time to consume the news when I am in a more resilient frame of mind. I also have full choice over what headlines to read and thus what details to pursue further rather than allowing news outlets to decide themselves what headlines they send me in the form of phone alerts. In the wake of that decision, I have been feeling substantially less frantic and overwhelmed.

Now I know that Facebook is not a news outlet, but it is a source through which users disseminate information, sometime in the form of new articles and videos. I struggled to control the news feed there as well. I wanted to see what friends and family were up to but could not avoid news from questionable sources and the spreading of messages of fear and hate. I found myself scrolling endlessly with no intention only to feel a sense of dejection and hopelessness after doing so. I knew this habit wasn’t doing me any good, but it wasn’t clear how much bad it was doing me.

It became too much and for the first time ever I deleted Facebook from my phone. I felt a momentary panic after the first moment of deletion. How would I know what everyone was up to? It was irrational, I know, which was further evidence of the issue. Ultimately, I wanted to see how much my perceptions and mood changed staying off of Facebook and taking back control of my exposure to news media. It definitely had an effect. I felt substantially less anxious from moment to moment. Stessors seemed more manageable. I improved my ability to focus on tasks in front of me given my phone alerts were less of a distraction.

During my Facebook break, I continued to reflect on where I had gone wrong and realized I was missing an opportunity. I didn’t jump from the social media ship all together but instead retreated to the happier world of Instagram where my feed is populated with happy and inspiring photographic moments of life. It’s generally a more creative and calming online space, and I felt inspired. I remembered that sometimes it’s not enough to simply avoid the negativity. That’s usually a losing battle. Instead I could inject a little positivity back into the social media atmosphere. After all, sharing meaningful moments of joy and love and gratitude are what launched the popularity of social media in the first place. It was simply a matter of returning to the roots of that online engagement and harnessing the tool for good.

So I returned to the Facebook community, but with some caveats in place for my own well-being. The app is no longer readily available on my home screen. I do not log on and scroll without intention. I actively reconfigured some aspects of my news feed so I have more control over what I see. Rather than being a passive observer, I’m making more of an effort to give out some good energy, to show more and kindness and support through positive engagement and share happy moments from my own life.

We struggle to connect to the world around us in a meaningful way rather than as passive observers that media pelts in the face whenever it wants. We become used to the drama of it all, even seeking it out, even though we know it has a negative effect on us. It becomes a toxic relationship. We have an incredible number of tools to reach out to each other and share and communicate. It’s important that we make those tools work for us in the ways that we want, that are beneficial to us. It’s crucial that we remember we have the choice to engage passively or actively or to engage at all. When we do choose to engage though, we’d do best to focus on the aspect that unites us all, our humanity.

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Too Late

We have so many intentions to do so many things. We plan to get around to them eventually, when we have more time. But sometimes we don’t have as much time as we think.

H and I met in high school. He’d always greet me with a huge smile in the hallway. When I asked how his day was going, he’d answer, “Oh, you know me. I live my life a quarter-mile at a time,” laughing and mocking my love for the movie The Fast and the Furious. He daydreamed in class and drew cute and funny cartoons that featured me and the people we knew. He was smart and silly and coined witty catch phrases that caught like wildfire among our friends, some of which we still say. When a friend of ours died unexpectedly, H and I went to the funeral together, leaning on each other for support. He was an impressive musician and played drums in a punk band. We also kissed once.

After high school I left for college and moved to a city about four hours away from my hometown. A couple of years later, H moved there as well. He needed a change and to break some old habits. By then I had a different life. I was going to college full time, working, and had a busy social life. H and I had grown apart after high school, but I was excited to know we were living in the same city again.

We chatted on the phone and via text message. I told him about my classes and he told me about his job at a popular pizza spot, a place I had been a few times.   We made tentative plans to hang out, but something always came up. I always intended to hang out with him, but I never made it happen. After a year or so, H moved back home.

Shortly thereafter, I was at work when my cell phone lit up, and I saw on the display it was a close friend from home. I didn’t answer at first, but then I thought about how strange it was that he was calling me in the middle of a weekday when we were both usually at work. I answered the call and heard the somber news. H had died of a drug overdose. He was only 24.

I went home and went to the funeral. I started crying in the car before we even got there, and there were moments when I wondered if I would ever stop. Afterwards, about thirty of us gathered together to tell stories, laugh through our tears, and to drink ourselves into oblivion. We cried and reminisced into the wee hours of the night until one-by-one we started to pass out from emotional exhaustion and alcohol. H’s death was unexpected and hit us hard.

Death is a strange thing. It reminds us of our own mortality. It reminds us that we only have a limited amount of time. H has been gone a long time, but I still think about him, and it is still weird knowing that he is not here.

I have always regretted that I did not see H at least one more time before he died. I do not remember the last time I saw him.

We don’t know how much time we have, but it’s finite, so it’s important we prioritize and use our time wisely.  We get busy and sidetracked going through the motions of daily life, putting off one intention after another. If we put them off too long though, it may eventually be too late.