This week, we were given a task that could make or break some college students’ minds depending on their level of stress as the end of the year approaches. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, we were instructed to go on a media binge. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, we had to flip the table and go on a media fast. I’ve confirmed a concept that I’ve gleaned from this semester’s readings; too much of anything can hurt.
As a millennial, I’ve become somewhat used to having media in my face 24/7. That being said, binging on media definitely took its toll on me both physically and mentally. As an English major, I have a lot of reading assignments that I have to complete everyday. Instead of reading a physical copy of the book, I decided to download the books on my laptop and read them through a screen. Needless to say, that decision came with a lot of distractions. It became nearly impossible for me to get through a chapter or even a few pages without checking social media, the news, or responding to iMessages on my laptop. It didn’t help that my phone was on its highest volume as well. Typically, I would keep my phone on silent while doing my English homework. While I may not have notifications going off on my phone every two minutes, the occasional distractions definitely took me away from my reading.
During class, I typically look at the physical copy of my English reading materials in order to follow along with the discussion. With my laptop open in front of me, I couldn’t help but become distracted while the teacher was talking. In fact, there was one instance where I am sure that my professor called on me specifically because he could tell me that my mind was surfing the web and not actually looking at the reading material. He was right.
During my free time, I typically do not completely unplug from social media. Even when I’m out with my friends or watching a movie in theatres, I can’t help but check my phone every now and then. However, I typically just look at the notifications and decide to check back in on them at a later time. For example, my iPhone gets notifications from news outlets such as CNN and Wall Street Journal at least a couple of times every hour or so. Instead of reading the headline and putting my phone back away, I would stop and read the entire article. As a result, I was definitely more informed this week than previous weeks where I would forget to return to the article. However, the cost was that I was constantly distracted by my phone when I should have been learning from professors or enjoying time with my friends. And physically, my eyes were straining from spending so much time reading on my laptop; it was even painful to sit in a classroom with bright lights.
On the flip side, the media fast seemed like it would be a welcome break, and it was. However, after a day, I now found myself itching to check social media or the news even when I was sitting in class. Further, it was more difficult than before to unplug from my phone. Thankfully, my eyes were slowly starting to recover from the strain that I put on them the previous three days. However, I felt very isolated from the society beyond my immediate physical circle. I turned off my news notifications on my phone, and without those constant reminders, I didn’t remember to check the news. Even if I had remembered, I would have to ask a friend about the current events of the day instead of reading about it myself. Luckily, my friends and I have similar trains of thoughts, so they knew what kind of news I wanted to hear about. Unluckily, that still meant receiving information from inside my bubble when I had started to make extra efforts to get information from outlets outside of my bubble.
The media fast was an opportunity for me to get some physical and online distance from the world of media. Just like Plato, I discovered the virtues of distance and feeling released from the busyness of the world. However, I also still felt that tugging to check my phone or hop on my laptop to surf the web. It made me realize that no matter how hard I try, I’ve become so accustomed to the exposure of media that a three-day fast was not going to cleanse me of my desires to check in online. I may have been physically disconnected, but I surely was not mentally disconnected.
In the future, I believe that balance is not only recommended, but it is also necessary for us to keep sane. I understand the importance of media and keeping our world connected, and I don’t think the answer is to eradicate it from our lives even if it does have some harmful effects. Instead, taking time now and then to have a depth experience truly is necessary for the mind.
Instead of having a constant juggler’s brain and trying to study for a final while also checking out Facebook and reading articles on the New Yorker, it might be time to focus. And this focus tends to be the best when I get the chance to disconnect from media and study something else such as learning a new recipe or practicing my ukulele.
In the end, the best exercise is for the mind to handle tasks vertically instead of horizontally. Juggling may be impressive, but not when it’s impossible to exit the endless cycle of distractions.
Maybe binging isn’t always a bad thing? Although it is bad for my grades. Check out this article on binge watching TV shows to get an understanding of how binging can actually help us:
Check out this article for a perspective on how too much social media, in the case of presidency, isn’t a good thing either: