Friday, March 02, 2007

"Screens" redefine human experience

For the past three years I have helped organize TV Turnoff Week activities in Southwest Portland as part of my involvement with the Northwest Media Literacy Center.

During that time, though, our concerns have extended beyond television—so much so that the national TV Turnoff organization has changed its name to “The Center for Screen-Time Awareness.”

Our society is now at the point where we are subjected to screens literally from cradle to grave. No one has actually started to market casket screens for the departed but anything is possible, especially if there’s a buck to be made.

Last year I stopped shopping at Albertson’s when the Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway store hung screens over the check-out lines. “Enough with the screens already,” I wrote “corporate.” A PR functionary wrote back that it was all an experiment and, anyway, I was the only person to complain.

I responded that I had other choices for where to spend my money, and in the future I would shop where I wasn’t treated as just another captive in a media demographic to be exploited. Moreover, I wrote, I would urge others to do the same. (You can complain to Albertson’s by calling 1-877-932-7948.)

Within the last few days three “screen” stories have appeared like separate dots in the mediascape. Connecting them is an exercise in screen-time awareness.

Two were from today’s newspapers. The first, on the front page of The Oregonian, reported on young teen “Party Boys” performing dancing so obscene that it drove girls subjected to it to tears and led to arrests for sexual abuse. The grotesque behavior by the McMinnville boys was modeled on a scene in the movie “Jackass.”

After the boys were arrested, one of their fathers complained that the arrests and incarcerations in the juvenile home were unnecessary. “I could have handled it myself. He listens to me,” said the father, who, like millions of other parents, obviously didn’t have a clue.

The New York Times business section today ran a story about how the Albertson’s experience has metastasized to malls, Wal-Marts and even shopping carts and gas pumps—any place drawing mass “audiences.” One mother is quoted as saying that that screens in malls captivate her children. “If it’s showing a preview of a movie they want to see, I can’t get them away from it.”

“…can’t get them away from it”? Welcome to parenting in the 21st Century. Who’s in charge here?

Finally, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 43 percent of babies under the age of one are watching TV, and that programmers at Disney and Sesame Street are actively targeting them. Media marketeers are told by their researchers that brand-awareness and bonding is possible before infants even learn to talk.

As reported in the Washington Post, there is an entire 24-hour network aimed at babies. It’s called “BabyFirstTV,” and it blatantly counters the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics that children younger than two should watch no—that’s zero—TV.

Any expert in child development will tell you that the very young need the warm sensory interaction they get from parents. They also need to freely explore three-dimensional space in order to connect with the real world.

Hour upon hour of ubiquitous screen time is literally redefining, and confining, what it means to be human. It is blocking us from seeing and experiencing the world as it is.

Screen-time awareness, indeed! We absolutely must get a grip on our media consumption. We must consciously limit screen time and critically assess the time we and our children spend with media.

Finally, I have submitted media literacy legislation to State Senator Ginny Burdick and State Representatives Mary Nolan and Larry Galizio. It calls on schools to teach media literacy to our children.

I urge you and your friends to write these three lawmakers to support the legislation.

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