As a dietitian asks a client to document food intake in a diary, a mass communications student must consciously understand their media consumption. Documenting my media use for a 24-hour period helped me become familiar with how I consciously and unconsciously utilize media. Recollections of the “grieving process” characterized my media deprivation experience. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance feelings surfaced throughout my day. The evening before the experiment, I experienced idealistic denial. I considered the obvious media I had to avoid such as my laptop, iPod, other music, DVDs, or cell phone. I prepared by calling and informing relevant friends and family of this assignment, ripping labels off the clothes I would wear, and additionally ripping labels off hygiene items I needed. At this point, I felt in control of my choices. I also felt as if I could truly avoid media and enjoy the opportunity to live a peaceful, mindful, and present day. In the past, I have consciously avoided media. I generally do not watch TV; sometimes I drive without the radio; or have avoided turning on my laptop if I notice an unhealthy dependence. Having previously deprived myself of media, I was hopeful and committed to completing a peaceful 24-hours. This hopeful feeling of being present and accepting quickly turned into anxiety.
My morning routine consisted of yoga, showering, eating, getting ready, and then leaving the house. I had a doctor’s appointment to attend and had to go to the beer distributor as I was hosting a get together the following day. Afterwards, I planned to drive to my boyfriend’s house, have dinner, and enjoy a media free evening. However, I was overwhelmed by the difficulty I had avoiding my routine media use. The most difficult media to avoid came from advertising. A Cheerios box and conditioner bottle were anxiety inducing. After examining the box and bottle, I realized they imposed dominant ideological values such as heterosexual marriage or gender role beliefs. I became disgusted and slightly irritable. I then began ripping labels off everything I could and hid other products whose labels I could not remove.
Advertising media was by far the media most difficult to avoid. It is everywhere. There were so many unavoidable media encounters in the doctor’s office. I mentally prepared myself, but I felt surrounded and almost paranoid. The pen and clipboard I encountered during the sign in process had drug advertisements. There were also TVs in the waiting room. My idea to use earplugs to ignore the sounds of the TV did not really work as I could easily hear everything. I attempted to avert my eyes from the advertisements. However, I noticed a drug advertisement on the examination table’s stirrup covers. I was at the OB/GYN and luckily, I only received a shot, so I did not have to physically touch the stirrups. I felt like I was experiencing a consumer-society information overload and very relieved to leave. Experiencing the advertisements at the beer distributor felt less personal. I expected sexist advertisements and that was exactly what I found. I did not avoid using the advertising media from the doctor’s office and the beer distributor because they were simply part of the errands I had to run. I also could not avoid using my debit card at both places. Debit cards contain a chip that can process data concerning the purchases I make. I have found this data collection most apparent in Target. When I use my debit card there, I receive coupons directly related to products I have bought in the past. With this in mind, using actual dollar bills appeared less media related, but I did not have any with me. To completely avoid all media, I should have stayed in bed all day, but I cannot simply give up 24-hours of my life. Necessity brought me out of the house.
While driving to my boyfriend’s house, I began staring at signs as if they were a newfangled thing. I forgot I was supposed to avoid media, and the religious signs outside of churches and on billboards were terribly interesting. Their messages were unavoidable and I even found myself pulling over to document their claims. My favorite was a billboard picturing Hell’s fiery flames. It asks, “Where are you going? Heaven or hell?” Resisting the messages on the billboards and church signs was difficult. Additionally, I noticed many signs for small at-home businesses and contemplated the local economy. There were several small repair shops and hair salons local community residents run from their home. I imagined the men probably work in their garages and the women take the livelihood of cutting and styling hair. Each house with a sign for an at-home small business did not seem to possess customers.
Some days I wish I could throw away my cell phone, so, I happily avoided making and accepting phone calls. From this experiment, I realized my body possesses a sort of muscle memory connection towards physically locating my cell phone. It was powered down, but I still continued routinely checking to be sure that it was in my pocket. I did not use my phone, but I asked my boyfriend to call two of my friends solidifying the following day’s plans. Making plans is impossible without some media form.
Silence overcame me while I was alone. Without media, there was a sort of quiet stillness. My boyfriend attempted to entertain me with some hand drums, but I was quickly irritated. I settled for the sound of wind chimes. I could not fully accept the quiet feeling. I found myself applying personal coping mechanisms due to media withdraw. My usual, seemingly positive, coping mechanisms for day-to-day stress tend to involve media use. I “tune in” to something like the Internet, music, or a friend on the phone, while simultaneously “tune out” whatever is plaguing me. As I was unable to use these particular coping mechanisms, I chose to clean and organize instead. The house was completely spotless.
During the class discussion on political economy and Smythe’s view that, “in a capitalist culture, all non-sleep is work time” I initially felt Smythe needed to lighten up and learn to relax. After closely paying attention to my media engagement, it became apparent media is embedded with codes to be identified and translated. Advertising requires an audience’s attention. Advertising exists to be decoded, so products are needed, then bought. As Marx claimed that all unpaid work was profit, my time spent connecting with advertisements and decoding their ideological implications was merely given away freely as a commodity. I found great difficulty choosing an activity that did not connect with a consumer product. Overall, this experiment felt like a success. It raised my awareness of my chosen and imposed media encounters.