Wednesday, March 29, 2017

I Just Can't Quit You

When my husband and I first married, we realized that life was a bit more expensive than we were expecting. So in a bold cost cutting measure we eliminated our basic cable package to save $60 a month. Since we were young and in love, we felt like being in each other’s presence would be enough to sustain our entertainment needs for the rest of eternity. Boy, were we wrong! 

Now to be clear we lived in a town were you couldn’t pick up even local channels without cable so when I say we didn’t have television, we had nothing. Referring to television Kubey & Csikszentmihalyi (2010) cited Winick’s study on television addition by stating that the “first three or four days for most persons [without TV] were the worst.” 
For me, that is a bit of an understatement. My first few days without the medium that had basically raised me, were torture. I couldn’t bare the silence. Even daily tasks that should have kept me busy like doing my homework or washing the dishes became experiments in social isolation. I felt like a prisoner removed from general population and suddenly doing solitary hard time. I was anxious and bored. I couldn’t find enough activities to keep me busy and I felt like I had fallen off the face of the planet. I didn’t know what was going on in the world, I couldn’t watch the news, I could watch Letterman, Friends or OPRAH (It was the nineties, don’t judge.) I suddenly felt like Tom Hanks in Castaway. I was alone on an island and I didn’t even have a volleyball. 

By the second day, I was so starved for television I packed a lunch and headed to the student center just to hear noise while I ate. By eight p.m. I was itchy, irritable and about done with my three month marriage. Ordinarily we’d stay up well past midnight watching old episodes of Seinfeld and Star Trek:Next Generation. At that point I was so hungry for television I would have watched QVC! No matter how much I loved my husband, his company alone wasn’t enough to sustain me, I needed my TV! I felt isolated, alone and had a serious case of FOMO. 

But then something interesting happened. About a week on the wagon my anxiety and boredom started to decrease. I started noticing things, the small patch of weeds outside our basement apartment, a cookbook I got as a wedding present, and an old pair of running shoes in the closet

After school with nothing else to do, I slipped outside and pulled a few weeds. I threw on those old shoes and went for a short run and made a recipe out of that cookbook. It felt good. Instead of feeling tired and lazy at the end of the day I felt creative and excited to tackle more projects.

I also noticed my mood and general attitude started to change. Up until this point in life I generally felt dissatisfied. I never felt like I was enough–not as thin or as beautiful as the women on television. I was frequently depressed and envied how wonderful and happy lives seemed on TV. Without those media messages in my house every day, I stopped comparing myself to the actors and their made for TV lives. Because I wasn’t sitting on a couch watching television I became more active, lost weight and became more productive. My confidence improved. Which helped me becoming more adventurous. Overall, I was just generally more happy and content with my life without television. I had created a life without TV. I was free!

Kubey & Csikszentmihalyi (2010) describe dependance as a disorder characterized by spending a great deal of time using the substance; using it more often then one intends; thinking about reducing use or making repeated unsuccessful efforts to reduce use; giving up important social, family or occupational activities to use it; reporting withdrawal symptoms when one stops using it. 

Every semester I challenge my students to go 48 hours without any technology including their telephones. And every semester I get a slew of written responses describing the hell of living just two days without digital media. I have them complete this assignment because I am also a media junkie. Nearly all the progress I made in a decade of no media was undone with that advent of the smartphone. 

Occasionally I do the assignment with my students. By noon I’m always itching for my phone. I feel phantom texts. I’m dying to check Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. The silence and lack of distraction just kills me. By two o’clock I’m anxious and restless. Just as I had felt a dozen years before I feel completely cut off from the outside world and I don’t like it!  

I have to agree that “maintaining control of media habits is more challenging than it has ever been.” The immediacy to online connection and entertainment supplies immediate satisfaction and a nice rush of dopamine that helps the user feel good. 

There is a lot of discussion about whether media in any form can be addicting.  Because It cannot be categorized as a chemical dependance may scholars and medical professionals say no. While others swear that it meets every definition of addiction. My own experience with media has led me to believe that for myself media has a pull as powerful as any drug. 

As hard as it is to admit, Hi, I’m Kristi, I’m a media addict and I want my post television life back. 

Do you feel media can be addicting? 

Do you find yourself addicted to some form of media? 

What advice would you give to someone who suffers from media addiction? 

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