America’s Addiction to Media


Isabella Wartzenluft, Reporter and Editor

According to Pew Research Center, 24% of teenagers go online essentially constantly; 56% go on several times a day; 6% go on weekly, and 2% less often. Among the 75% of teenagers who have access to a cell phone, 94% access the internet and social media once a day or more. But when does the use of technology stray from the purpose of gaining insight and knowledge and turn into an addiction?

According to The Sourcebook for Teaching Science, 99% of households in the United States own at least one television. This easy access to media for millions of Americans can, like cell phone usage, result in dependence. In the official psychiatric manual [DSM-5], a television addiction fits the criteria for substance abuse. According to The New York Times, two to 12 percent of television viewers find themselves addicted to the point that they want to stop yet feel unable to. Some addicts report watching up to 56 hours a week.

Jennifer Passler, an English teacher at Arrowhead High School, says, “We do watch too much television to the detriment of physical activity and social interaction. There is nothing innately wrong with TV, but we don’t use it as well as we should. It could offer ways to connect or to encourage getting outside, but instead it’s been developed to addict us to programs to keep us coming back or never leaving, think Netflix binge watching, in order to entice advertisers or producers to invest in that particular network.”

When a group of four- to six-year-olds were asked to choose between spending time with their fathers and watching TV, 56% chose TV, according to The Sourcebook for Teaching Science. Compare that to the three and a half minutes per week parents spend having meaningful conversations with their children.

“I think that television watching for children will give them a false sense of reality, and it will also give them only one way of having fun, which I do think changes the way that kids will learn to socialize and communicate with others,” says Sophia Carey, an Arrowhead junior.

Recently I took a trip to an AT&T store with my mother. We were told by one of the employees that the fact that we only have two television sets in our house was abnormal. He said people typically have at least three. According to California State University, the national average is 2.24.

My family watches quite a bit of TV. My sister and I are often on Netflix after school. My mother watches shows while she cooks and at night. My dad almost constantly watches TV at home. We all have different favorite types of shows, so we often watch our shows in separate rooms, which is another symptom of too much TV watching, the way it shuts people down and prevents them from having meaningful conversations and developing relationships,” says Carey.

As a child, I recall my mother banning the television for weeks, normally during the summer. At the time, I was upset at being forced to go outside. Now, however, after seeing the affects that becoming addicted to media at a young age could have on me, I am grateful.

Television was a major focus of my childhood. I remember the whole family watching TV every night. I loved waking up on the weekend and watching cartoons in the morning and feeling lost if nothing was on TV mid-Sunday morning which is weird to realize this tendency and know now that there is never a time when nothing is on for my own children. There is always something to watch and it’s designed now to be addictive,” says Passler.

Though I rarely watch television on the TV in my family’s living room, I often spend time watching Netflix. I have come to see how addicting it can be. It is a break from what is going on in the world around me. However, I much prefer reality to the little world created in a television show or movie. It is too easy to distort what is real and what is not by spending too much time watching fabricated stories.

I think media, or TV in general, is referred to as a form of entertainment when it’s actually a way for people to procrastinate, distract themselves, and keep themselves busy. In recent years, as TV is becoming more and more heavily watched, people see this as the ultimate relaxer, as you have to do literally no work, and view other modes of entertainment as too much work. We’ve all heard adults say, ‘When I was young, I was outside, I wasn’t watching TV or playing on my phone,’ and as annoying as that is, there is truth behind the fact that people today are more and more often choosing to take the easiest and least stressful or skill-required or athletic,” says Carey.

Not only do televisions pose an issue when it comes to media addiction, but cell phones as well.

“I think that cell phones can be good because it gives you unlimited access to endless amounts of information. There are aspects of being absorbed in a phone and spending too much time on a phone, but I think that in general, phones are a great new technology that have greatly furthered the development of the technological field,” says Carey.

On an episode of Inside Quest, Simon Sinek, a motivational speaker, discusses the habits of millennials (people born from 1984 and on). According to Sinek, millennials were subjected to failed parenting strategies. Millennials were constantly told they were special. They were given participation medals and placed in honors classes due to the influence of parents rather than their own skills.

Once they grow older, kids realized they are not special, but rather similar to everyone else. This then resulted in a generation who grew up with low self esteem. As Sinek says, they were “…dealt a bad hand.”

Born in 2000, I am a millennial. I grew up being told I was extremely intelligent, put in advanced reading courses and given participation ribbons for simply showing up to school events. However, when I reached high school, it became increasingly difficult to accept that, rather than being a genius, I was average.

“I think that there is a slight fear of millennials using technology too much, but overall, phones are a way to access other people that you don’t see in everyday life. They are the only reason I can talk to friends from Illinois and Pennsylvania and Michigan and other parts of Wisconsin. I also use it often to explore the world of information around me, listening to new music, researching new things, and meeting new people. It helps me expand my mind past what book-learning could offer to me in my lifetime, and so I appreciate and support the use of cell phones in educational and social purposes,” says Carey.

According to Sinek, millennials have become used to instant gratification, which breeds impatience. If we want to buy something, watch something, or contact someone, all it takes is the click of a button.

This instant gratification results in a need for cell phones sometimes showing itself as an addiction. Technology releases dopamine, something that we feel with music, gambling, alcohol, and more activities, many of which can be considered numbing.

Cell phones are something that have, in the past, brought me more harm than good. I have put my phone to rest, rarely going on it, because I find my head is more clear and my happiness levels much higher. There is a sense of having to keep up with everything that is going on. We live in a generation where the fear of missing out is high. It can cause horrible stress.

Often, while out with friends, I look around to see that everyone is absorbed in their cell phones, checking social media, responding to other people. We are desperate to talk to people, to have interactions, even when others are sitting right in front of us. If you take a glance around study hall or the cafeteria in high school, student’s eyes are glued to Netflix and YouTube, relishing in a reality that isn’t theirs.

Are we too far down the rabbit hole? I’m not sure. It’s the reverse chicken and the egg equation: Do the advertisers give us what we want, cats in funny hats or candy to crush? Or, are the advertisers manipulating scientifically studied instincts to cause us to choose their media promotions? I’m apt to choose both with an emphasis on the latter. Orwell said it best: ‘Until they [we] become conscious we will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they [we] cannot become conscious.’

The only thing to do, though, is to keep noticing, to keep writing. We do have control once we are aware of our actions. We can make an effort to turn off the television or to view its contents with a critical eye. We are the consumers of television, but the warning is right there in the name: consume, to destroy, devour, engross, to use up. It suggests a violent end brought on by insatiable instinct,” says Passler.

So has use of technology strayed from the purpose of gaining insight and knowledge, and turned into an addiction? Yes, I would say so. When people are going to the extent to constantly pull their phones out rather than talking to people sitting across from them, it is a problem. When people choose to spend their time watching television shows about invented families and dream relationships rather than going out and living the life that they have been given, it is a problem.

But that is not to say the issue cannot be fixed. We are a generation of innovators and people who seek change. If others can come to understand that technology can have both an incredible and a horrible impact, then we will strive to make the good stand out.