Skip to main content
The Impact of Electronic Media
Oct 1, 2000

Plato (d. c.348 BC) described a cave in which people live like prisoners, stuck with the physical objects surrounding them: what they saw, heard, and experienced”what we call the visible world. Since his time, discoveries and inventions have led to many new amenities. But there is a hard question to answer: Are we still in our caves or have we been freed?

I would like to focus briefly on the twentieth century in terms of technological innovations and their impact on the human soul. The Industrial Revolution radically changed our traditional lifestyle. Modern technology engendered many improvements in such areas as production and transportation. These changes were reflected in the literature and art of the period as well.

Views of Technology

In 1909, for instance, the Italian writer Marinetti published The Manifesto of Futurism, a great example of how intellectuals were affected by technology. He states that the world's magnificence has been enriched by this new beauty, the beauty of speed: We stand on the last promontory of the centuries! Why should we look back? What we want is to break down the mysterious doors of the impossible. Time and space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed. We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.(1)

This approach is very understandable, because its adherents assumed that modern technology would provide opportunities they had never experienced. The prospects of technology amazed them. But looking back, we see that technology shaped a new type of people who are dependent on machines. Producing tools and making money became cornerstones of modern life. These views threaten cultural values and traditional relationships among people who feel alone in these technologically separated environments. We ask: How much do machines dominate humanity, and why do people feel so deeply abandoned?

We can look at two perspectives from that period. The first is technology as a magical and wonderful creation, promoted by Marinetti and other futurists. The other is characterized by people like Charlie Chaplain who, in one of his movies, shows a worker who screws bolts every day as eventually starting to see everything as a bolt. This is the worst effect of twentieth-century technology: People have begun to feel like machines or parts of machines.

Do people need and deserve more than this? Of course, they do.

The latest version of modern technology is cyberspace, a place where people can find all sorts of information. Locating information and sharing experiences is easier than ever before. The Internet, for example, has become the information superhighway on which people can find almost everything. The Internet and other technological tools have helped create the expression being digital, which refers to people who use a lot of technology. Is this the illusion of technological globalization(2) or electronic democracy will be the end of participatory democracy?(3) Even though this digital medium provides a new source of information, we have not figured out how best to use it or what information to trust on it.


At this point, we must learn how to use modern technology and regulate information, because we cannot ignore them. These scientific and technological advances will play important roles in future developments. Science and technology in and of themselves are not the problem, nor have they ever been. The real problem is that science and technology are developed, deployed, and controlled by the predatory system of pancapitalism. The mainstream development of knowledge and technology is guided by increased efficiency in militarized production of violence and/or by potential corporate profits in civilian markets.(4)

There is another significant point here: Modern technology has been trying to create a cyberbody. In the future, scientists will be able to produce digital flesh to enhance our abilities. So here is the problem we have to solve: People who have these enhancements installed may begin to wonder if they are humans or robots. We already have seen that people can adjust their bodies in many ways: laser surgery to correct their vision, or synthetic material to replace their teeth.

Cyberfeminism focusing on women's role in cyberculture is another interesting example of changing the human body. This already has caused some problems. The challenge here is rather how to combine the recognition of postmodern embodiment with resistance to relativism and a free fall into cynicism.(5)

Technology has limited privacy. When we are born, we get a birth certificate that quickly goes online. Educational files, social security files, insurance files, criminal files, consumption files, and so on are all in cyberspace. The Internet has become an on-line marketplace and is continuing to grow.

On the other hand, even though we are so connected, our social relationships with others have fallen apart. Every relationship between teachers and students, buyers and sellers, parents and children, for example, will be changed radically in the next few decades.

The most important question is how can we find a good balance that gives happiness and hope for both our bodies and our souls? We are not just bodies that need to eat, sleep, and rest, among other things; our souls must be nourished. In this technological age, this has led to a conflict”the crisis of modernity”between religious and metaphysical ideas. Nietzsche said that God was dead. Of course he was wrong, because he, like other philosophers, could not have realized that spiritual needs would become so important in modern times.

Today, we still are seeking for something to feed modern society's spiritual hunger. We will have to find or build a way of thinking that will include metaphysical ideas, scientific innovations, and religious thought. After that, we will be able to put ourselves in a place where people can regulate their spiritual and physical needs. Otherwise, we will never feel that we are free


1 F. T. Marinetti, The Manifesto of Futurism, Le Figaro (February 20, 1909).

2 Steve Gibson, right.html.

3 An Interview with Paul Virilio, nettime.w3archive/199904/msgn00456.html.

4 Critical Arts Ensemble Staff, Critical Art Ensemble, The Flesh Machine: Cyborgs, Designer Babies, and New Eugenic Consciousness (Autonomedia: 1998), 7-8.

5 Rosi Braidotti, Cyberfeminism with a Difference, Negative Effects The majority of electronic media content, especially TV programming, contributes to materialism and consumerism. Material well-being and possessions are viewed as lifes greatest values. The AAP labels child-directed advertisement as inherently deceptive and exploitive. Numerous studies conclude that children under the age of approximately 8 cannot understand the intent of advertisements. This vulnerability leads them to accept such advertisements as true,(11) which leads to unnecessary spending in some families and to childrens keen disappointment in others. Part of the reason for the Wests decreasing spirituality may be attributed to increased materialism via electronic media programming. The electronic media contributes markedly to obesity by displacing many more active alternative activities. Advertising also is a factor, as many of food advertisements are for unhealthy products. In particular, child-directed toy and food commercials may result in increased conflict between parents and children because of the parents inability or un-willingness to meet the childs demands. Most electronic media content glamorizes and normalizes alcohol, tobacco, and drug usage. The implicit message usually associates these substances with fun, prestige, humor, and excitement. But their negative consequences are usually depicted rather poorly or not at all. When Sweden banned alcohol advertising on TV in the mid-1970s, alcohol consumption decreased by 20 percent. If this was the result with a clearly stated message, we can expect the effect on an implicitly stated message to be even more dramatic. The implicit message concerning sexuality is roughly the same: Everybody, especially the young, is sexually active. There is nothing to worry about. The drawbacks and consequences of such depictions are rarely, if ever, mentioned. Abstinence is either not presented or is portrayed negatively. Another concern is the medias provision of ready-to-use gender, occupational, race, religious, and other stereotypes. Many viewers accept these passively and then generalize them. The impact is much greater on children than adults. Finally, the electronic media affects school and job performance. If we consider the people we know, we would find that academically or professionally successful people rarely invest much time in the electronic media. Similarly, many heavy users have accomplished nothing significant at school or on the job. Recent studies have pointed out that more than 1 to 2 hours per day of TV viewing has an adverse effect on academic performance, especially a childs reading and comprehension scores.(13) As we read in Drabman and Thomas: A socially interactive environment that stimulates curiosity and exploration enhances the development of an effective brain. Thus, excessive childhood involvement with electronic media that limit social interaction could hinder the development of a brains social system.(14) Heavy electronic media viewing might lead to attention deficit disorder (ADD) or a decreased attention span. A person with ADD cannot concentrate on any task for long, and so does not acquire the necessary persistence required both at school and at work to achieve something. Such children also may become accustomed to learning through visual images. But learning at school is primarily verbal, via teacher lectures, and contains few images. Thus they may be unable to learn as much, for this is not the way they have learned to comprehend. The impact also is seen in ones imagination, which may be considered a precursor for creativity. Carlsson-Paige and Levin conclude that before TV, children usually made up their own war-play themes. Today, most of it comes from imitating electronic media content.(15) Such imitative, in lieu of imaginative, play impairs the proper development of childrens cognitive systems. Media Literacy or Media Education One rather radical solution to counteract these negative effects is to remove all electronic media from our lives. However, this is not a realistic option for those with children. Electronic media has the potential to enhance peoples, especially childrens, knowledge, experience, and perception. Isolating children from its harmful effects is impossible, for they will be exposed thorough their school and friends. Such isolation may have an even more adverse effect. A more elaborate and sensible alternative is to improve critical electronic media usage skills through media education or literacy. Such strategies can be defined as eliminating negative effects while taking advantage of its benefits by educating children, adolescents, and adults. According to the AAP, a media-literate person should understand that(16): All media messages are constructions produced by people to be viewed Media messages shape our understanding of the world People interpret media messages uniquely Electronic and mass media have powerful economic implications. People can become more media literate if they: Get involved in sports, camping, hiking, reading, and other non-media activities. Provide immediate and elaborate content-related explanations to children and adolescents via content interpretation and explanation Ban all violent, offensive, and indecent electronic media content, including non-educational video games and cartoons Restrict electronic media usage to those with high educational content Have one TV per house Put the TV and other electronic media in the houses less-prominent areas Keep TVs, computers, video games, and so on out of childrens rooms Do not use the electronic media, especially TV, to babysit, punish, or reward Turn off all electronic media during meals, when most family interaction occurs Do not fight boredom by using more electronic media, for if directed properly, boredom may lead to creativity Prepare a weekly schedule of programs to watch Keep children under 2 years old away from the TV and other electronic media, for such children require a great deal of interaction for healthy brain growth and the development of appropriate social, emotional, and cognitive skills. For older children, limit it to 1 to 2 hours. Conclusion The electronic media has potential benefits. However, it also has negative, harmful effects, especially on children. As it cannot be banished, both parents and children should become media literate. Rather than waiting until unacceptable behavioral patterns are learned and then dedicating substantial resources to cope with them, it is far better to redirect efforts and resources toward early prevention programs, particularly for children and adolescents Footnotes 1 This is the American Academy of Pediatricss definition. 2 Judith Van Evra, Television and Child Development, Children, Youth, and Family Consortium (CYFC), (1990). 3 Pediatrics: Policy Statement on Impact of Music Lyrics and Music Videos on Children and Youth, American Academy of Pediatrics 98, no. 6 (December 1996): 1219-21. 4 Said Nursi, Letters: Seeds of Reality (Turkey: Sozler Nesriyat, 1994), 545. 5 Victor C. Strasburger, Children, Adolescents, and the Media: Five Crucial Issues, Adolescent Medicine: State of the Art Reviews 4, no. 3 (October 1993); Van Evra, Television and Child Development. 6 R. S. Drabman and M. H. Thomas, Does TV Violence Breed Indifference? Journal of Communication 25, no. 4 (1975): 86-89. 7 R. Sylwester, The Effects of Electronic Media on the Developing Brain, Media Literacy Online Project (College of Education, University of Oregon: 1994). 8 Surgeon Generals Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior, Television and Growing Up: The Impact of Televised Violence, Report to the Surgeon General, United States Public Health Service (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1972); D. Pearl, Television and Behavior: Ten Years of Scientific Progress and Implications for the Eighties, US Department of Health and Human Services, Publication No. ADM 82-1195, vol. 1, (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office 1982); A. C. Huston et al., Big World, Small Screen: The Role of Television in American Society (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1992). This book is the APA Task Forces report on television in society. 9 C. Anderson, Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior in the Laboratory and in Life, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 78, no. 4 (April 2000): 772-90. 10 C. Kalin, Television, Violence, and Children (M.Sc. Synthesis Paper, College of Education, University of Oregon, 1997). 11 Pediatrics: Policy Statement on Children, Adolescents and Advertising, American Academy of Pediatrics (February 1995); Surgeon Generals Scientific Advisory Committee, Television and Growing Up. 12 In the context of this article, spirituality is defined as implementing the requirements of religious orders in ones life. For instance, the size of the Sunday service congregations has been declining for several decades. 13 Victor C. Strasburger, Does Television Affect Learning and School Performance? Pediatrician 38 (1986): 141-47; M. Morgan, Television and School Performance, Adolescent Medicine: State of the Art Reviews 4 (1993): 607-22. 14 Drabman and Thomas, Does TV Violence Breed Indifference? 86-89. 15 Huston et al., Big World, Small Screen. 16 Pediatrics: Policy Statement on Media Education, American Academy of Pediatrics 104, no. 2 (August 1999): 341-43.