In Addicted to Distraction: Psychological consequences of the modern Mass Media, professor Bruce G. Charlton makes the case that the “Mass Media” is a “inter-linked communication system of all the media – including print, broadcast and internet media considered as a whole…the system as a unified network of communications both within and between each of the specific media”, which has no function other than sustaining and expanding itself, while damaging and subverting traditional institutions, values and the human “consumers” of these media.
Tying in to the title of the book, Charlton believes:
“the Mass Media is of its essence a distraction from…everything. A distraction from all reality – except for the reality of the process of distraction.”
Because it is destrcutive of good, “the modern Mass Media is intrinsically evil.” More than just another element in modern society, Charlton contends that the Mass Media “is the ruling social institution in the modern world”, more powerful than any religion, government or any other organization.
What Charlton argues is quite provocative and may lead some to question whether things are really as bad as he suggests. Examples abound though in the modern media landscape that demonstrate, indeed that most of the Mass Media is aimed towards sustaining itself, without any positive mission towards society.
Take BuzzFeed, an “internet news media company” covering topics such as “politics, DIY [do it yourself], animals and business”. A company based on advertising and “shareable content” whose sole goal is growing itself.
A cursory look at their recent articles (more of which appear infinitely as you scroll down) demonstrate that their is no cohesive purpose to this content beyond vacuous entertainment.
Lets try a more serious example using CBS Corporation. Looking at their Corporate Responsibility page, we read:
“Recognizing its influence as one of the world’s leading media companies, with assets that include national television networks, local TV and radio stations, interactive and outdoor media and a publishing house, CBS Corporation strives to use its power and reach for the public good. Its commitment to quality news coverage, community outreach and support, public service announcements, diversity efforts and socially responsible content across all its divisions has earned CBS the distinction of being a public trust.”
What exactly is meant by “public good” or “socially responsible content” is never, and will never be publicly stated.
The Mass Media is relativistic, focusing on or ignoring particular topics without reference to their importance or merit. Some things may be portrayed as intensely urgent or critical information:
“famine relief in an African country; sacking of a celebrity for making a ‘gaffe’; honouring a sports hero; celebrating of a Royal Wedding or the Olympics or a pop star funeral; imprisoning a sexual offender or alternatively awarding him a knighthood [referring to Jimmy Savile]; the wonderfulness of a particular new car or computer; taxing ‘carbon’; or subsidizing an opera house…”
In addition to its nihilistic outlook, the Mass Media is ideologically leftist, an evolved form of socialism, communism and 1960’s U.S. progressivism, perpetually challenging the status quo as part of a “permanent revolution” against the established order. Viewing the Mass Media through this lens changes the idea of a “leftist media”, when the Mass Media is inherently leftist.
I sympathize with those who fight against “media bias”, “distortions” and “disinformation”, but after reading Charlton’s book, I think people are foolish to imagine that through their hard work, the Mass Media will one day be objective, non-partisan and respectful of facts in pursuit of the truth.
The Mass Media can focus on any topic and analyze, criticize, condemn and destroy their target (or severely damage it through weeks, months and years of negative coverage) and in particular focuses their negative attention on Christianity (the Catholic Church in particular), traditional sexual morality, hypocritical behaviors of individuals used to condemn entire organizations, religions, etc. and other topics de jure.
Though Charlton’s analysis of the Mass Media is pessimistic and he believes it will continue to grow in scope and influence (especially given the rise of social media which coopts hundreds of millions of people to “share” vapid and subversive “content”), he does believe that at an individual level we can “detox” from Mass Media addiction and lead more peaceful, focused and sane lives without its nefarious influence.
Charlton recommends a return to Christianity and God, but even non-Christians will recognize the need for some type of spiritual lifeline that isn’t tied to media consumption. Assuming you can selectively filter bad content on your own is a dangerous idea. He recommends abstaining from all forms of modern media to the greatest extent possible and advocates that you:
“treat the Mass Media as you would a conference of conmen; people you know are out to exploit you, trick you: somehow, anyhow…Recognise that the Mass Media is so dishonest that you learn nothing true from it: there is biased reporting, gross selection within reports, and there are made-up lies and falsehoods seeded throughout.”
Addicted to Distraction is one of the best books in recent memory, because it addresses a critically important danger that threatens society. The rise of the internet and the 24-hour news cycle is a recent phenomenon and this book (published in 2014) appears to be the only one on the inherent nature of the media, not only the ill effects of media addiction.
The suggestion to tune out the Mass Media is laudable, though will pose an insurmountable challenge to most people who are thoroughly addicted to Facebook, Twitter, “news” (largely consisting of selectively filtered and distorted information) in all its forms, sports, movies, music, magazines, “viral videos” and millions of valueless “articles” in between.
The best that can be done is to convince a minority to change their lifestyles to resist the ceaseless temptation to partake in mindless consumption.
I’m aware that by mainting my website, posting articles and using social media I am engaged with the Mass Media that Charlton describes and criticizes. I don’t believe in abstinence from all Mass Media, but I recongize that cutting myself off from 90% of what I read, watch and listen to, wouldn’t be far off the mark.
I’ve already started unsubscribing from various mailing lists, deleting sites from my bookmarks to sites I used to read regularly and trying to be ever vigilant not to get sucked down the rabbit hole of “surfing the internet”.
I’m not interested in generating “clickbait” or articles whose usefulness is ephemeral. I don’t expect that I will ever get 1% of the traffic of BuzzFeed, but even if it could, I’d never want it to be the result of trying to casually “entertain” people with pseudo-helpful information.
Check out the book, it contains insights and enlightening knowledge that describes the challenging new paradigm in which we are living and how to deal with it:
Here’s an example of a Mass Media generated “controversy”, totatally invented to generate racial strife while assaulting the reputation of a Catholic high school. A more recent example of Mass Media manipulation is the disturbing editing of a documentary conducted by Katie Couric.