Please visit Thinking Skills for the Digital Generation by Athreya and Mouza at Springer.com

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Media Awareness 1

Media Awareness

What is Media Awareness? Why is this important? What does the word “media” mean?

In Communication, it stands for mass media. It is the plural of medium. Wikipedia defines it as “storage and transmission tools used to store and deliver information and data”

What does the word Media include? There are Passive media such as the Print, TV, Movies and videos. And there are Interactive media such as Video games, Internet, and the Computer.

You will hear about Media literacy and Media awareness. Media literacy is a comprehensive term that includes creating messages using a variety of media and using the media. We will focus on media awareness.

Media Awareness is about understanding how media messages influence us and our children, how they affect and interfere with the physical, emotional and economic aspects of our lives, how they bring into our homes values we do not approve of in our children and learning about the proper use of media

Media Awareness is NOT “media bashing” and it is not to “save” children from the media. It is meant to point out the role of parents in educating the children and to teach children how to use media carefully and critically.

Why do we need media awareness? “Media no longer just influence our culture. They are our culture.” says the Center for Media Literacy (www.medialit.org).

“We must prepare young people for living in a world of powerful images, words and sounds” says a report from the UNESCO 1982.

Media are essential and useful. Media have major positive influences in the modern society. It has contributed enormously to education and entertainment. It is a major force in bringing humanity together and in globalization of commerce and cultures. It offers instant availability of information at any place at any time. We need the media.

Then why are we worrying? It is because children spend significant amount of time with TV, Internet, video games. They are vulnerable. They are often left to explore these contents without guidance and supervision. Consequently they fall victims to propaganda and enticements and get into trouble.

Marketers know that children spend several hours a day with media (TV,Video & Internet). In general, children spend 25% of waking time with TV/monitor. Young people spend 16 – 17 hours per week on TV. If you add computer and video it is 35-50 hrs/week. 32% of 2 to 7 year old have their own TV (in their bedroom). 65% of 8 – 18 year olds have their own TV. Advertisers know this.

Recent report from FTC documents that food and beverage marketers spent 1.6 billion dollars in ads directed at children in 2006. This includes direct marketing to children through product placement, special events and games. This can be tracked. But cross-promotion with a new movie or popular TV program or animation characters cannot be tracked.

Commercial organizations also know that children are future customers and are vulnerable. They can be “trained” to become loyal customers.

James Twitchell says that commercialism consists of “commodification or stripping an object of all other values except its value for sale to someone else and marketing”. The following quotes are attributed to folks involved in commercialism and marketing

“Children are consumers in training”

“Children are cash crops to be harvested”

Parents are “gatekeepers”

Children have to be taught to increase the “nag factor”.

“Antisocial behavior in pursuit of a product is a good thing.”

This is gross misuse of the vulnerability of children and human psychology. When I read these quotes, it made me very angry. Indeed when I presented these data to a class of 9th graders, some of them were surprised to learn how they are being used and became furious. I hope it makes you angry too.

The advertisers use variety of tactics such as making “it” look “cool” or fun thing to do or to possess a toy or a game or a dress, by making it look absolutely essential, by making it appear as if “everyone” is doing/buying “it” or, or by saying that a so-and-so “celebrity” uses “it” or by connecting it with some other toy or prize.

I think that this a good place to share the eight logical fallacies as taught by Aristotle. You may know these already. If so, this is a good time to share these with your children and grandchildren. These are the same false arguments used often by marketers and all of us! Hopefully, your children will learn how to recognize these fallacies in ads and in the argument used by others and themselves.

Aristotle’s 8 Fallacies are:

1. ad hominem – appealing to personal prejudice (“This cream will make your skin smooth”)

2.ad populum – appealing to mass emotions (“If you use this everyone will love your company”)

3.ad baculum – appealing to brute force (“This is recommended by every doctor on earth”)

4. ad crumenam – appealing to money ( “This will make you rich”)

5. ad verecundiam – appealing to prestige (“This actress uses it”)

6.ad misericordiam – appealing to pity (“Don’t let your children “suffer” without this!”)

7.ad ignorantiam – appealing to ignorance (“Only this product has the miracle ingredient”)

8. ad captandum vulgus – any catch-all dishonest argument (“Everybody in your school has it”)

In his book on The Art of Clear Thinking, Rudolf Flesch combines these categories into two major material fallacies. In one, an irrelevant point is brought up and in another a relevant point is left out. When irrelevant points are used, the language is apt to be more concrete aiming at personal interests, emotions and prejudices. The best way to deal with this fallacy is to ask “so what?”. For example, if an ad says that “Mr. so and so uses it” , ask “so what?”. Omission of relevant points will be marked by wide, non-specific language. This fallacy unravels when you ask for details. For example, when an ad says “this is the best beer in USA”, ask for details of how they came to that conclusion.

Negative impacts of active and passive media are well known. In addition to giving wrong information, biased information and only portions of information, they often give images without substance and bring in values you and I will not approve of.

There are several studies documenting the negative effects of TV and passive media. These include displacement effects, so called because they take the children away from essential, positive and growth-promoting habits such as reading/home work, practice of skills (eg: music), sports, thinking, sleep and socialization.

There are several studies published in pediatric journals to document the negative effects of media on children’s physical health (obesity), mental health (violent behavior), behavioral health, economic health (credit card debts). If any of you are interested, please call me or write to me and I will give you the actual references.

Although these negative effects on children are well known, industries are NOT likely to act, since their focus is profit and their client is the shareholder (which incidentally includes all of us since most of us do invest in stock markets). Legislators are NOT likely to act effectively because of differences in basic political philosophies, conflicts of interest, effective lobbying from all sides and a general atmosphere not conducive to compromises.

Therefore, we have to depend upon parents and pediatricians who are the advocates for children’s welfare and on professional organizations such as the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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