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The Practice of a Healthy Media Diet

Most of us try to find some kind of balance between too much media consumption and too little, particularly when it involves exposing ourselves to bad news. Too much negative information – about war, injustice, global warming, poverty, you name it – and we get overwhelmed, anxious, depressed or jaded. Too little and we risk losing touch. We may ignore things we actually care deeply about, or fail to see how we are contributing to the suffering.

I try to think of my media consumption as a diet. Media nourishes me and helps me grow as a person, even if much of it also makes me sad. It informs me about what’s going on in the world. It can educate me, broaden my perspectives, and allow me to make better choices. It can arouse my compassion, awaken my conscience, and fuel my determination to support change.

On the other hand, if I expose myself to too much negative information, media can start having a harmful effect. I can start to shut down, go numb, or feel aversion to any story or commentary that seems to be trying to educate me or make me feel guilty. I can cling even more strongly to my opinions and habits because it feels like they are under attack, or because I need to take solace in something familiar or pleasant. I can turn away from my compassion, conscience, and determination because it seems I will be sucked dry of any positivity before anything really changes.

If I look at my media consumption as a diet, I can mindfully monitor the state of my mental and physical health in order to know what to expose myself to, how much, and when. I don’t have to abstain completely because media consumption is pointless or harmful. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. I also don’t have to read, watch, or listen to everything.

I know I need more exposure to news and challenging information when I get complacent. That’s when it feels like the stories about war, injustice, global warming, poverty, etc. are impeding on my space, and seem irrelevant to my life – as if they’re happening in some parallel universe and my compassion can’t quite reach across the space between worlds. Then I need to watch one of those heart-rending documentaries and remember in a visceral way it’s all my world. I am intimately connected to all of it. To forget that means to forget part of myself, to shut down a whole dimension of my experience as a human being.

It also helps to think of my media consumption as a diet because I am well aware a healthy diet isn’t easy to maintain!

Photo by Spencer E Holtaway (creative commons)