Q. What is the down side of all this media we’re exposed to — the e-mails and chats and videos and games and everything else?
A. Virtually every medium, despite its diversity, despite its breakthrough potential, also becomes a lowest common denominator in one way or another, and begins to be corporatized and commercialized.
Q. And, as an ethicist, you see a moral issue here?
A. I’m concerned about the fact that the medium can not only spread a pro-social message and can save lives [as it did during the earthquake in Haiti and other natural disasters], but that the medium can also carry the basest thought possible and can recycle it and inculcate it, especially in younger minds that don’t have much control over what comes in.
Q. So, what do you recommend parents do to protect their children from the downside of media exposure?
A. My bias is balance. Talk to your children about what they’re watching. Make sure you are to some degree aware of the possibility of what they’re going to see. And withhold some things, maybe until the weekends when they’re doing well in school, maybe after a certain time at night, maybe limit to a certain time of day. And do a media fast occasionally, so you remember what it’s like to be with other people.
Q. What is a media fast versus a media diet?
A. A media fast is like a food fast. You don’t kill yourself, you just abstain — you may take in juice or water. A diet is sustained consumption, but of a more limited and careful and conscious nature. You don’t want to fast from your job’s requirements. A practical media fast simply means cutting out the seven hours of guilty pleasure that the average American has per day — not the one hour of media that they truly need.
Q. You’ve cited statistics that the average child now spends 45 hours a week with media, 30 hours in school and 17 with parents. What is the significance of this?
A. The dominant educator now is media — not parents, and not school. We live in an imaginary world that’s been constantly edited and sometimes sanitized.
Q. One essential problem with all this media barrage is distraction, right?
A. Distraction becomes much easier. I just had an e-mail come in and I heard the bell. When you have people marketing constantly, through various forms of entertainment, the distraction will be more abundant, more diversified.
Q. Does all this use of media affect our health?
A. It leads to a state of unhealth. It may not create a particular condition, or it may — burnout, or stress. Or it may be a factor that contributes to them the way lack of sleep does.
Q. How do most people seem to react to a media fast?
A. Most people, when they do take a media fast for a week or two weeks, they often return to the media being more selective, conscious consumers.
Q. What about you personally? What happened to you when you began going on media diets?
A. I felt my mind was much fresher, more alert. I could give better lectures in class. I was a more creative person. I’m a musician — I actually started playing again. It’s an overall change of mind-set as well. You begin to say, ‘Oh, I’m in charge of my life again.’ That’s a fundamental mind shift.
Interview has been condensed and edited. Karen Weintraub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.