Keeping a balanced diet in media consumption

Last month, William Jacobson, a Cornell professor and the founder of political blog Legal Insurrection, was met with intense opposition by students and faculty who were convinced that he was a safety threat to the Vassar College campus. He was confounded by this response—as he wrote in his blog

Tomorrow evening, on Ithaca College’s campus, nationally-known second amendment activist Larry Pratt will be giving a speech entitled “Firearms are a human right.” He argues that, to prevent mass shootings like the one just earlier this week that left 26 dead, we need to equip students and everyday citizens with guns to protect themselves.

It’s not hard to imagine a group of students showing up to this event tomorrow with preconceived notions of who Larry Pratt is, with a close-minded goal of attacking the person rather than the ideas. In order to avoid situations like this, and like the one at Vassar, our education system and other institutions should dedicate more of their time to teaching media consumption.

Throughout history—and especially in today’s media landscape—it’s important to critically analyze the television shows, news content, movies, and other media we are consuming. To really understand media messages, consumers have to think about what the message is and the full context behind that message. Using a prescribed structure or system to this analysis is important to be able to fully analyze a piece of media, and to compare that analysis with the details of other media.

In my opinion, watching television media is like keeping a balanced diet—and watching one television show is like going through one healthy day. There are three components to this: planning meals; tracking progress; and adjusting diet over time..

Each of these components, while significant to anyone trying to keep a balanced diet, is also symbolic for anyone consuming television media. The overall goal with a balanced diet is to become a physically healthier person over time—but the goal with consuming television is to become a mentally healthier person over time. I personally think that “mental healthiness” in media consumption translates to a full understanding and, secondarily, an enjoyment of the content—and consumers can achieve that by using these three steps.

While a person on a diet starts by planning their meals for the day, a critical media consumer must go into any media intake with an active knowledge of their past media intake, and a plan for what they want out of the media. Just as someone might want a certain number of calories, and a couple grams of fiber, a media consumer should want to learn more about a certain subject, or figure out why the media creator focused on the specific arguments made.

After eating their meal, this hypothetical healthy person would want to track their progress in some way. This also translates directly to media consumption: After consuming your calories you want to add them to the total, and evaluate your next meal; and after consuming your media messages, you have to think about what those messages mean, and how they impact your world view.

Finally, this directly leads to the most important step to these consumers, and to everyday life. With the knowledge we take in, we have to critically think about that knowledge means, and how we should proceed going forward. This is the process of adaptability: It’s the only way we can become physically and mentally healthier over time. And it’s the only way we, throughout life, can learn new skills and perspectives, and improve as people.