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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Today I'll trust the Earth

Today I'll trust the Earth to bear my weight,  to carry me.

The habit of years reappears.

Distrust is contagious. Watch Fox News: the business model guarantees the disease.

My steps withheld,  weight tenderly delivered, energy spent containing within an imaginary armload.

My steps on the planet are mine alone or are they part of a composition?

The ego answers from behind the curtain "Oh, it is I who manages all, your DNA, the era that you were you were born in, the wealth of your country's treasury, the policies in place, all mine."

How did the mind and the ego decide I couldn't trust the earth to carry me?  

That my tightened gut and jaw, my clenched fist, would guarantee the trick of walking without falling or being swallowed by the earth?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Today's Drama and Conflict 24/7 News Cycle

The television news business delivers not the news but drama and conflict. Its name will never change from "the news" to "today's drama and conflict", but if it did, maybe we could correct the imbalanced view we receive of the days' events.

For short, let's refer to today's drama and conflict as TDC, and hope that with the new name comes a clearer understanding of the role money plays behind the set of the who what where when why of the news business and the impact on its viewers.

Watching TDC 24/7 has an unintended but nevertheless very rea
l impact on people's optimism and their sense of agency. Understanding the news on cable and commercial TV requires remembering the out-sized role of ratings in the entertainment program that otherwise looks like a public service.

Since TV news is a business before it is a public service, the public isn't allowed to see that  even though the menu for each day
changes, the ingredients on TV news are always the same: TDC.

When tragedy or disaster strike, the public-service function of field reporting on TV about events such as weather disasters or outbreaks of disease revives the promise of television news. Thankfully, most days are without such large scale tragedy.

TV news of the TDC variety does not rest on peaceful days and feature two-hour long programs of dog show competitions, (though even reruns of last year's dog show would be better than television talking heads stating, restating and triple stating what we have already heard and understood 15 minutes ago).

We see the parade of TDC when the anchors strain to create fear with statements like, "It could have been much worse" or "No one knows the full extent of the problem." TV ratings would suffer without the constant stream of adrenaline inducing fear mongering.

The upshot is that viewers receive a diet of high anxiety, stress and worry that we believe reflects our world, when in fact it is primarily a reflection of the business model of the electronic screen that we have voluntarily invited into our homes. It's important to understand that our perceptions are traded for the ad dollars our attention commands.

The worst aspect of this dangerous diet of TDC is that it weakens our optimism about what we believe we can do.
Crossed wires tell us that by watching something on TV we are doing something. That is a function of our imagination but not of reality.

Perhaps no one intends to dissuade us from taking an active role in community politics or to paralyze us with fear by the parade TDC 24-7 in service of ratings instead of the public good. But, intentional or accidental, passivity is a natural byproduct of the TV news business.

The writer, Rebecca Solnit, in her book Hope in the Dark hints at who we might be without that constant parade of TDC:

"The sleeping giant is one name for the public; when he wakes up, when we wake up, we are no longer the public: we are civil society, the superpower whose nonviolent means are sometimes, for a shining moment, more powerful than violence, more powerful than regimes or armies. We write history with our feet and with our present and our collective voice and vision and yet, and of course, everything in the mainstream media suggest that popular resistance is ridiculous pointless or criminal, unless it is far away, was long ago or ideally both. These are the forces that prefer the giant remain asleep.

Together we are very powerful and we have a seldom told, seldom remembered history of victories and transformations that give us confidence that yes, we can change the world because we have many times before."

The TDC news cycle overlooks our quiet victories in classrooms, families and workaday lives: good news doesn't sell fear or worry and won't build ratings points, but aren't our lives meant for more than helping a business turn a profit?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Four days and four hours

What activity that you currently enjoy --no love very much-- would you willingly give up for 100 hours in order to experience living without its influence? Just for the sake of curiosity or if not that for rediscovering something you lost. Not sleeping or eating? How about talking or walking? 

How about temporarily  stopping something that borders on the addictive, such as using electronic media? 

This semester I revived an extra points opportunity for students in my face to face classes to try living in the natural world without the influences of media for 100 hours.

Addiction to media's dopamine-delivering-drip of texting and tweets is a commercially encouraged and legal addiction.  Socially acceptable as it may be, I see our dependence on media as handicapping to both myself and to my students. To pull back the veil of media's intrusion of our natural senses, I asked my students to earn extra points by voluntarily refraining from all electronic media use, except for academic or employment purposes, for 100 hours, or the equivalent but less scary sounding four days and four hours. 

Here are the reflections of one of my students this semester who agreed to let me share her AdobeSpark video about her experiences.    

Some history. Ten years ago I regularly assigned this project to hundreds of my students as a requirement of the course I teach, Introduction to Mass Communications. The results were revealing. Most were unable to complete their project without falling back, usually without thinking, on phone or Internet use. Television watching was easy to give up, they said, and the hardest was listening to music. 

Mistakes were allowed. "Get back on the horse," and continue, I told students when they discovered they had slipped. I understood how hard it was to do. I did the project along with the students and found myself numerous times, many minutes into cheating without noticing, using the phone or listening to the news on the radio during the commute home.

Even with stumbles, many students reported deep insights about their relationship to siblings and parents and romantic partners after completing their abstinence from media. They said they came to understand that media use had made them blind to the people around them and their need to communicate. 

I remember the student who was roommates with his brother and his brother's wife. He found out that his brother missed his friendship with him even though they lived under the same roof. I remember the student whose grandfather couldn't reach her on the phone and rushed to her apartment to see what was wrong because she didn't answer her phone like she usually did. He sat down, talked to her about his past and revealed that he was an orphan when he was a child and had been adopted. "Why hadn't you ever told me this?" the granddaughter asked. "It's that you are always so busy using the phone, I never wanted to bother you," he told her. The student was unaware she was sending that signal by always clutching her phone. There was the student who reported losing the buzzing in his ear when he stopped using media, and the one who discovered during a walk in her neighborhood a little girl her daughter's age who she had never seen living a few doors down from her home and now the kids are playmates. 

After a few semesters I noticed the push back from students was getting harder. Their use of media was increasing during this time if they were similar to all Americans ages 8-18. In 2014, screen time accounted for more than 10 hours a day. 

Realizing I was working against a Goliath, I cut back the time off from media requirement to 48 hours to make it easier for the students to complete the project and get most of the benefits. I don't know whether I should make it a required assignment again. There are loads of reasons to do so and loads against it. I do know such an experience has great value to many, including myself. 

Here is an entry from the journal submitted by the student who completed the assignment and the reflections in the Adobe Spark linked above. "My opinion on this challenge was that everyone should try it at least once, and even longer. It's nice to just disconnect from the digital world that we've created especially with how much negativity it can sometimes bring. We have the real world for a reason, so why waste our moments (not being) in reality that we could enjoy?