I've been noticing a trend in conversations with consumers. There's a growing awareness that our media diets are killing us, and an accompanying resistance to do anything about it.
Young people complain about the pressure to post, "Do I really have to expose my entire adolescence to the public?" even as they upload photos from last night's party. Mothers assert they are adamantly against TV for the kids, "except for a few shows...or when I need a break for fifteen minutes." A whole ecosystem has developed to sate the needs of the celebrity gossip obsessed who berate the paparazzi as they flip through the pages of US Weekly.
As a trendspotter, I see the inconsistency between what consumers say and what they do as one sign that change is coming. What's happening now with media reminds me of the tension experienced by consumers at the leading edge of the food revolution. Healthy eating proponents were called health "nuts" for years before the idea of scrutinizing the quality and provenance of one's food became mainstream; before Wal-Mart started selling organics. People talked about healthy eating for a long time before they actually stopped buying Big Macs.
We now accept that we are what we eat, and many Americans are doing something about it. Information is also consumed. How long will it be before we're ready to accept that the mind is what the mind "eats," and do something about that?
We've already allowed that the sheer quantity of information we're exposed to on a daily basis is a problem. Much has been written and said...ironically, very much...about information overload. Twitter is peaking and experiencing a backlash simultaneously. Pundits blame the 24/7 news cycle for the sensationalism of the news even as they collect checks for their umpteenth appearance. We're drowning in a sea of words so convoluted that whole movements are stymied by their overexposure before they even get off the ground. Can anyone say "Green" without flinching?
These examples speak to the obvious problem of quantity. Just as with food, you can bet the next evolution of the conversation will be about quality.
In the earliest days of the food revolution (think 80s and 90s) diets stressed the quantity of food consumed, but focused very little on the quality. We learned to weigh ourselves and our food, count carbs and fat grams, and drink zero calorie soft drinks. The root of the problem-our dysfunctional personal and cultural relationship with food-wasn't investigated until we exhausted these measures and found ourselves fatter than ever.
As a culture, we had to evolve past the math. We had to be prepared for the painful exposures that eventually characterized the tipping point of that revolution: Spurlock's video chronicle of declining health and Michael Pollan's exposure of inhumane and unnatural practices in the food industry forced us to look beyond the numbers of our beloved nutritional labels to the complex environmental, political, and sometimes ethical issues behind the meals on our tables.
As the pressure of inescapable information mounts, the source of the conflict I hear is that information, like food, is something we need for survival. Media is not all bad, just as food is not all bad-in fact much of it is nurturing. Improved access to information and entertainment is changing this world for the better every day. It is news, media, communication, and even advertising that keep the economy running and our culture united. Media gives us definition and so we hold on. People can't stop communicating and being communicated with any more than they can stop eating. What's changing is the tolerance for junk is diminishing and the desire for something enriching is growing. People are shopping for organic information.
The one factor slowing the progress of the organic information revolution is that widespread awareness requires the support of...you guessed it, the media. A public discourse about the toxicity of junk media is not something that would appeal to those in a position to really spread the word. The revolution, so to speak, will not be televised.
If the food revolution was characterized by maneuver warfare, the information revolution will likely be won through guerrilla warfare. It will rise up through subcultures -- moms, environmentalists, yogis, kids -- and will gain traction as people start to recognize real benefits of a healthy media diet. This will put pressure on providers and advertisers to consider the source and intention of their product in the same way food manufacturers have had to regroup to address the growing demands of a public who are not having high fructose corn syrup. The smartest among them will act preemptively.
Just yesterday a man caught my attention. He was walking towards me on a crowded New York Street. He looked vital and focused like a man on a mission. On his black t-shirt was a clue to the source of his steady gaze and determined walk: "Kill Your TV," it said in white block letters. The revolutionaries are already among us.
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