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How Do You Consume Media?

October 12, 2017


In a tightly packed 9 am discussion section this morning, one-hundred tired, coffee-filled college students were presented with a singular task: recall all of the media you have consumed in the past 24 hours. As my brain rushed through all of the photos, tweets, Spotify playlists, and podcasts I plowed through recently, I got to thinking about how I consume media messages. What messages am I most attentive to? What messages go by automatically, without any brain analyzation? Why do some things stick with me and why do others not? According to our professor, along with other communication scholars, there are four primary of consumption: automatic, attentive, transportive, and self-reflexive. 



When asked to recall the copious amounts of media I indulged in in just 24 hours, I found my self almost sickened at the long list that appeared on my paper. My brain scurried even more when asked to do another task: now list the specifics of the media you consumed. What songs did you listen to? What were the lyrics? What pictures did you see on instagram? While I filled with pride at my remembrance of the songs I listened to, I could not begin to think about the which friend of mine posted a new nature picture. I realized that I often take the position of a passive listener, that is I fall in the automatic phase. I take in the message, but only on a surface level. This is the most common, and easiest way of media consumption, yet it seems to be the most meaningless. I want to spend less time in this mind-numbing phase.



The attentive phase seems to be the most ideal. In this phase, consumers go beyond the sensory details and simple messages, into a more analytical phase. What do the lyrics mean? Why did this article in the NY Times choose this quote from Donald Trump? I find it troubling to understand why jumping from the automatic phase to the attentive is so difficult. Has the constant stream of new media messages completely shortened our attention spans, making us incapable of analyzation? I refuse to believe that idea, especially after being surrounded by brilliant minds the past 3 years in university. Perhaps selecting a small amount of media that one can focus intently on is the way to go, instead of spreading our minds too thin to accommodate for hundreds of messages.



Focusing on a message too intently can have negative consequences. When a consumer can no longer separate themselves from the content they consume, they are transported. This is the kind of media skeptics fear. A child believing their video game universe behaviors are synonymous with those in the real world can have serious consequences such as violent behaviors. A radical right-wing reading articles from the perspective of Nazis in Charlottesville may be unable to separate themselves from the hateful messages, and carry out those acts in their own area. Of course these are two extreme examples, but they bring to life the real cognitive effects media has over human minds.



This state requires the highest level of cognition. Being self-reflexive requires the individual to be aware of the decisions they make while consuming media. For example, a liberal choosing to indulge in a liberal leaning newspaper publication every day because they know they will agree with the material being discussed about topics such as health care, the environment, and civil rights instead of reading articles from a source they do not like. This phase requires self-awareness.


After learning these modes of media consumption, it is safe for me to say I desire to spend the majority of my thinking time in the attentive and self-reflexive stages. I am sad to say I have spent a fair amount in the automatic stage, blindlessly scrolling through information. What state sounds best to you?



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