Academic journal article The Journalism Educator

Student Musings on Life without Mass Media

Academic journal article The Journalism Educator

Student Musings on Life without Mass Media

Article excerpt

With high schools and universities reevaluating the role and questioning the value of journalism in their educational missions, it is valuable to illustrate both the depth of influence mass media reach in everyday life and the range of discussions, issues, and thoughts generated in mass media classrooms.

A simple and yet compelling way to accomplish these is to ask students to avoid all forms of mass media for four or five days. No books, newspapers, movies, magazines, radio, television. No VCR, stereo, tapes, discs, albums. All mass media is off limits, except where it is necessary for school or work.

They record their reactions in diaries. How does this affect their routines? How do they feel about missing a program or an article? How are their lives different without mass media? What do their friends and family think and how do they react? Why is a particular program, article, or medium important? What do they do without mass media?

If they cannot avoid mass media--and few if any can entirely--they must explain why they cannot.

Diaries and comments from hundreds of students in three states over the past dozen years demonstrated the incredible influence of mass media on students' lives and resulted in wide-ranging, multi-disciplinary, and sometimes emotional discussions on the media's functions and effects. No other methods involve students and demonstrate points nearly as effectively as this sometimes disturbing experience.

Student reactions to the project vary, but throughout the years many have discovered that mass media provide companionship, facilitate social intercourse, and make other activities bearable or even possible. Often students think they are addicted to mass media, that their habitual mass media use controls them and to some extent their lives. Media are often seen as the only viable form of entertainment--without media there is nothing. Many use media extensively to eliminate silence, boredom, and even thinking.

Content is important, and students use it to participate in conversations ("I don't want to feel stupid"), keep informed about the world ("I like to know what's going on"), anticipate traffic and weather, and, occasionally, to learn new things. Yet the most common uses appear to be related more to specific goals outside content.

When they say they "can't live without" mass media, they mean it because they need a mass media buzz for basic human functions such as eating, sleeping, and even using the bathroom. Without mass media, many seem almost paralyzed, unable to cope in a world more than ever defined through and perhaps by its entertainment and information machines.

Diaries offer opportunities to consider uses and effects of mass media in ways that directly relate to students and their experiences. Discussions of theory and media criticism mean less to people who do not understand their own relationships with mass media. Further, ideas and issues from the project relate to philosophy, psychology, sociology, political science, anthropology, mass media and other disciplines.

Media as companion

More than anything else, the project illustrates the ubiquity and reach of mass media in modern life. Often students resuming media activity after the project noted how happy they were to be back in touch with reality, as though mass media were reality and their own lives something else. In fact, many argued that medialess lives are not real, certainly not normal. One student said, "When I am home alone, I turn on the TV for distraction and for the noise. It seems to me the room would be empty without it and even I wouldn't be there." Walker Percy in The Moviegoer created a character who validated experience through movies. Television may perform that function--we are not real without it.

At times students isolated themselves by substituted media for human contact, preferring the steady, unfailing companions devoid of human complexity. Diaries confirmed what critics have long said: families break off into separate rooms to watch separate programs; radios and stereos drown out conversation; newspapers, books, and magazines put up walls. …

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