Today's guest blogger, April Gordon, is an active member of the Unmask the Media Project, a student-run program, developed by the Tulsa, Oklahoma Youth Philanthropy Initiative, that addresses the issue of the media’s negative effects on teenager’s self-perceptions. Her blog is the first in a series of three "Young Voices" blogs, where some of our young friends will lend their perspective on what it means to be a digital citizen.
What It Means to Be An Empowered Citizen of The Digital World
By April Gordon, Guest Blogger
As a 19-year-old college student, I can say with certainty that I know what it is like to grow up as a member of the digital world. My generation has been raised in a world that is saturated in the ubiquitous presence of media. We are confronted with media and advertisements whichever way we turn--so much so-- that it has infiltrated our innermost personal lives. Online films, music, shopping, and social networks have not only enabled the internet to dominate as a source of entertainment in our lives, but also allowed it to serve as an important mode of interpersonal interaction, shaping the way we communicate with our peers and environment.
Studies show that teens, on average, spend about 55 hours a week in front of some sort of screen, and only interact with their parents only about eight hours a week! In a world where media dominates the attention of an entire generation, it is clear that media is asserting itself as the primary mode by which our generation learns to comprehend and interact with the world around us. Unfortunately, the effects of our quality time with the media have dangerous consequences. Whereas our real parents strive to teach us to be strong, deep-thinking individuals, the media thrives when its “children” grow up to be dependent, impulsive, and insecure consumers. Our behaviors are shaped accordingly to such constant stimulus.
Not only are we exposing ourselves to the media’s harmful messages for hours every day, but we also unthinkingly give them even more power over us. Take Facebook for example. The hours that we spend on sites like Facebook give advertisers a huge information base with which to tempt us. If you were a company with deep insight into 845 million people's tastes in music, food, clothing, movies and books, not to mention you knew whether or not each one was single, married, divorced or "complicated," you would be sitting on an absolute gold mine when it came to selling highly targeted advertising. We, as members of the digital world, give this gold mine of information freely and without regard to the possible consequences.
The information that we unthinkingly sacrifice to these companies does not go to waste. Quite the contrary, advertising companies know exactly how to harness this information with sophistication and subtlety to maximize profits. Amazon’s “suggested purchases” are a good example of how companies are able to turn individualized information about consumers to best target and tempt us to complete additional purchases.
All of this would not really be a problem as it stands. We live in a capitalistic society, where the process of supply and demand brings both our economy and our society stability. One could argue that the media is doing an outstanding job of effectively harnessing its market. Granted, but the problem is more that consumers and members of the digital world are blindly buying into the desires and manipulation of the marketers without thinking through the consequences for their actions. My generation especially has grown up in this ad-infested world and has no real conception of any alternative. However, as members of the digital world, it is our responsibility to be fully aware of the choices that we are making online and the information that we are sharing.
Our generation must learn how to differentiate, as thinking individuals, each person’s own unique, individual truths and preferences from those which the media spoon-feeds us. By becoming more aware of our environment, we can be empowered to be more media-savvy consumers.
In the end, it is our duty to ourselves to be responsible members of the digital world. We alone can answer the question: “Are we the consumer, or are we the consumed?”
April Gordon is an active member of the Unmask the Media Project, a student-run program developed by the Tulsa, Oklahoma Youth Philanthropy Initiative that addresses the issue of the media’s negative effects on teenager’s self-perceptions. Gordon is currently a sophomore undergrad student at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. She is majoring in International Politics and Foreign Policy with a minor in Russian Studies. Her interests include global justice, philanthropy and teen empowerment.