While we live at a time of unprecedented access to information and educational materials, it is also true that not all of the information available to most citizens via the Internet and mass media is beneficial. Indeed, there is an immense difference between the notion of having access to college lectures from Harvard and MIT available at the click of a button on Youtube and having the ability to binge on reality television via a Netflix account. Here are just a few ways that mass media is changing society, and how the effects of information overload can negatively affect a new generation of viewers.
A Sense of Entitlement
One of the detrimental effects experienced by society due to mass entertainment centers around the sense of entitlement that such entertainment instills in its audience. Watch an hour of MTV, for example, and you’d think that a life of easy money and unearned luxury is the norm for most people. Most adults are able to separate the fantasy of mass media from reality, but for young children and teenagers who absorb the messages of music videos and reality shows that glamorize a sense of entitlement, a dedicated work ethic may soon begin to seem like a fool’s errand. After all, if someone can make millions of dollars by simply writing a hit rap song, why should anyone put effort into studying hard or building the skills necessary to succeed in a career? To children who look up to television personalities they see every day, the fantasy of easy wealth can become an illusion that is hard to dispel.
Desensitizing a Generation to Violence
A sense of entitlement isn’t the only message that mass media ingrains in the minds of today’s youth, however. A far greater problem may lie in the way that video games, movies, and television shows desensitize young people to disturbing images of violence. For many young viewers of television shows and films, constant exposure to violent imagery is likely to have a deadening effect on the mind, and to teenagers who face peer pressure to commit crimes or join gangs, violence may appear normal or even glamorous.
Glamorization of Drug Use
For teenagers who are getting their first experience of making life choices on their own, mass media can quickly become the proverbial devil on one’s shoulder. Contemporary media can often normalize risky behaviors such as drug taking without explaining the downsides of such behavior, meaning that at-risk teens will be inundated with the message that drug use is necessary and consequence-free step towards fitting in with the “right” social group. Indeed, a recent survey showed that as many as 14 percent of all popular songs glamorized the use of marijuana, meaning that teens may view such behavior as a normal part of socializing with friends.
It is clear that while young people today have far greater access to educational materials than previous generations, they are also inundated with far more access to violent video games, songs that glorify drug use, and movies that normalize violence. Greater access to informational materials may be an indication that society is hitting a stage of unprecedented progress, it is true, but for critics of mass media, the hope is that society is at a tipping point rather than a breaking point.