Are we metaphorical fish?

By Branwyn Wilkinson
Opinion Contributor

Does a fish know it’s wet?

Maybe. Then again, maybe not. The fish is immersed in water all the time, so wet is just it’s normal state of being. A fish is so accustomed to being surrounded by water that it would only become aware of the water if the water were to disappear.

But what does a fish have to do with anything?  The fish, and it’s questionable awareness of its environment, was a metaphor used in my Mass Communication and Society class. It refers to our own immersion in mass media.

We are the metaphorical fish. The mass media as the water surrounding us. Dr. Fortunato of the communication studies department assigned my class a project to help us figure out how aware we are of our media use and how it affects our feelings and worldview. It left me thinking about my own media use, and the media use of others all around me, and what it means in our society.

For the project, we first had to keep a log of our media use for seven days, then write a reflection about what we noticed. Then came the hard part: we had to give up the medium we use most for 48 hours.

Like many others, I gave up my phone. Or rather, I gave up using my “phone” for everything except actual phone functions. (Texting and calling.) No Internet, no social media, no music. And though I made a valiant effort, I didn’t actually succeed.

Part of my failure was absolutely necessary, though. My roommate is an international student. Since she doesn’t have an American phone number, we use Facebook messenger to contact each other.

It just so happened that during my 48 hour technology fast, she had a problem with her swipe card, so couldn’t get into our dorm. Turning on messenger notifications was cheating, but I had to so I could let her in.

This necessary failure to give up using my phone to access the Internet was the most telling experience I had during my media fast. In developed countries, at least, connection to mass media, even global media, has become a necessity.

There’s a reason why we’ve surrounded ourselves with media to the point that we hardly notice it anymore. Once we plug into mass media, it becomes vital to our daily communication, both on an interpersonal level, and informational level.

I never had a phone until I turned 18. I’ve had a smartphone for four months, and already giving it up for just two days was impossible. It amazes me how quickly I’ve been sucked into the global community of mass media. I’m already completely acclimated to having any kind of information, and every type of distraction literally at my fingertips.

While I was completing the assignment, it was awkward when everyone else took out their phones and I wasn’t able to. I turned to reading instead, because I felt compelled to be doing something. My friends were busy in the little worlds inside their phones, so I wanted to retreat to my own world too. But doesn’t that mindset contradict the idea of a global community?

Smart phones have given us the incredible ability to connect on a global level whenever we want from wherever we are. But sometimes we use this global community to check out of the one right in front of us. How often have you found yourself opening up social media when you were feeling shy? Have you ever turned to Pandora, or YouTube to avoid dealing with unpleasant emotions?

There isn’t necessarily a problem with this. Though, what if because you always listen to sad songs when you’re feeling sad, you never learn how resilient you are? What if by chatting with your friends on Facebook instead of engaging with the person next to you, you never meet your best friend?

Being a member of this global community is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s easier than ever to keep in touch with people, find out the latest news, and discover new interests. But any of these activities could distract from being present in the here and now.

As fish in the sea of technology, it is so important to be aware of our environment, or know that we’re wet, if you will. The Internet and smartphones are incredible devices. Using these devices to tune into the global culture we’ve used them to create is expected and good. But to use our access to mass media as consciously and effectively as possible, it’s important to be aware of the level of our consumption, and the reasons for it.

Interaction with mass media may affect how we feel and our world view, but it doesn’t have to control them.

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