Media news, 24/7 of the worst of the worst, Ebola, ISIS, the environment, politics, business, healthcare, jobs, inequality, violence and terrorism, has put global enthusiasm for life on hold. Humanity is suffering from an epidemic of depression.
Barraged by unrelenting cable television and on-line news sources, the public is vulnerable to sinking beneath the enormity of media-hyped crises, buying into an imagined belief in their own individual powerlessness. Completely overwhelmed by unrelenting media-focused nightmares, personal power to make decisions and the leadership to repair, improve or completely change a lot of what’s not working, is undermined. Hopelessness becomes the underlying sentiment across the board.
Conversations, which might previously have sprung up around new projects, developing accomplishments, positive plans and hopes for the future, are increasingly giving way to growing beliefs about what can’t be done, and dismal days ahead. Generalized as a collective mindset of helplessness, humanity becomes physically predisposed to illness, emotionally inclined towards despair, and financially resigned to hardship.
This isn’t like a cold or the flu, where, after enduring several miserable days or weeks, the viral or nemesis disappears until the next “bug” comes home from the office or preschool. Chronic collective despondency has the capacity to generate a dangerous chronic, downward spiral in productivity, innovation, human relationships, reducing any significant will to make positive effort, individually or collectively. Getting by. Hanging on. Making do, set the standard for quality of life expectations.
Media’s relentless misery instantly and continuously activates fear responses in the brain. As a survival mechanism, those frightening images and amped-up commentaries are noted in the fear centers, which reward our attention with the naturally occurring, cocaine-heroin-like neurochemical, dopamine. As with street-drugs, dopamine is ruthlessly addictive.
Another fix generated by another news cycle ginned up with horrors of Ebola, ISIS, the environment, politics, business, healthcare, jobs, inequality, violence and terrorism, actually calms the junkie, by precluding withdrawal. Initially, cut off from media sources of fear-stimulated dopamine, addicts become bored, irritable, reactive, depressed, physically uncomfortable, and loose the benefit of from 10-15 IQ points.
Intentional quality and quantity of media dosing could be just the detox program we need to regain a voice and reassert power over policy making where it matters. If selective exposure to media of all varieties was a collective choice, the pooled resources and experience of hundreds of millions could be expected to resolve what, at this moment, seems to be even our most intractable challenges.