Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Agony and Ecstasy of Media Fasting

Recently I assigned my community college students to put themselves through a one-day media fast.

No TV, no Internet, no cell phones, no iPods etc.

As I’ve discovered when I’ve done this before, the fast is either life-affirming, stimulating and eye-opening — or it is boring, isolating and even agonizing. One student this year worried that the fast was driving her crazy.

Almost all the students reacted to the fast in extremes.

I always ask whether the fast makes them feel more, or less, “in touch.”

Only a few say the fast puts them in touch — with themselves. Those who complain that the fast has made them “lose touch with the world” don’t explore what being “in touch with the world” means. They assume that media images and messages portray the world as it is.

Some are so traumatized by not having access to media that all they can think of is napping. If they aren’t working, they are consuming media, or sleeping. Cut out media in their off-work hours and their only conceivable choice is sleeping.

For a couple, cleaning their apartments was an option, but simply to “pass the time.”

It would seem that millions of young people have their lives defined by media. They no longer know who we are in relationship to the non-mediated world, nor do they care. They have truly "lost touch."

They believe that media involvement constitutes awareness.

And each year, more and more media distractions consume the lives of my students. This year’s group reported yearning for their iPods, cell phones and video games.


Here are two representative reactions (I’ve changed the names of the authors):

(During the fast) you learn more about yourself instead of about everyone else in the world. It was definitely good “me time.” I wrote down a lot of thoughts as well. I felt spiritual, yet out of touch. “Media avoidance day” definitely had its ups and downs, but overall I know it was good for me.

I wrote a lot and I love to write. … There wasn’t always someone in my ear brain-washing me, or informing me of every little thing. I was very in touch with myself, and out of touch with society. I really liked this assignment and would definitely do it again.


Without paying attention to the media we lose contact with our society, its most current thoughts or trends. It becomes harder to relate to more people and, while many of us feel isolated watching TV at home alone, we are really stitching ourselves closer to this society — a society of media and technology.


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