In 1990, a psychologist quoted in the New York Times reported that people “turn on the TV when they feel sad, lonely, upset or worried, and they need to distract themselves from their troubles.”
Another psychologist also said:
“People who watch too much television from childhood grow up with a deprived fantasy life. For them, watching television substitutes for their own imagination.”
How the phenomenon above has impacted our lifestyles and wellbeing is not new. Way back in the 1930s, a sociologist named Herbert Blumer published a paper titled “Movies and Conduct”. The observations from the research suggested that content shown on television and in the movies shape not only how young people interact socially, but also their attitudes to life and also how they choose to groom themselves. Although it was done decades ago, it isn't that different from how social media impacts our behavior and thinking today.
Naturally, the adverse side-effects from watching too much TV made people start to moderate and minimize their "TV time". But did we stop watching the television and reading the news?
The TV conundrum.
Watching the television (much like browsing the Web on our mobile devices today) has been a significant part in our lives for a long time. In any interior design mock-up, the TV is almost always part of the living room. For many people, it might even be considered odd not to have one in the house. Not only was the TV an important part of the decor, it also enabled us to receive up-to-date information and news from around the world.
And if you think about it, the time spent facing the screen in the old days isn't very different from we are indulging in Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tik Tok in present day. With the Internet, those same feelings of deprivation, loneliness and worry are simply just manifested in different ways.
In a similar way, the online ads that show up on our mobile devices technically aren’t that different from the conventional paper advertisements and billboards that we see on the sidewalks and highways.
Every advert out there - online or offline - is reaching out to you and saying something, in hopes that they’ll eventually change your mind and perception on something: “don’t use their product, use ours, we are better.”, “do this, don’t do that.”, “Do the right thing, invest in your wellbeing.”, “Vote for us, make the right choice”.
Can you blame the companies for putting out the advertisements that led you to buy their product? Were you under duress to act? Did you not have a choice?
Newspapers have been around since the 17th century, and television since the 1920s. In the same way, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and many other apps are probably also going to stay around for a very long time. Like it or not, these will become the norm for how anyone with a decent Internet connection will stay connected with the rest of the world. Along with that, our thoughts, our perspectives and bias on various topics will also continue to be shaped by them, the same way TV, movies and print advertisements have shaped civilisation since the early 1900s.
Media, in its various forms, new or old, will always be a tool for commercial and political propaganda.
We can choose to extricate from this dilemma by renouncing all social media, but one thing for sure is that we are ultimately responsible for how we let them influence the way we think.