Media Addiction: A Real Problem with a Real Price to Pay -- Jeff Einstein

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Cover image for  article: Media Addiction: A Real Problem with a Real Price to Pay -- Jeff Einstein

I quote below from the Introduction to my latest book, The Media Addict’s Handbook, available now on in paperback and Kindle editions.

We live in a time when – like the citizens of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – we are mostly undone not by the things we hate, but by the things we love. We are undone not by the things denied to us, but by our insatiable appetites for more of what we already have in excess.

We live in a critical and pivotal time fraught with peril, a time when an indisputable super-addiction to all things media and all things digital is now the default condition of American life, the rule rather than the exception. It’s a time when our addiction to all things media and all things digital – like any other addiction to any other narcotic – steals our time and money and freedom and sits imperiously as moderator and potentate over all of our most important individual and collective debates. We live in what I call the Great Age of Mediation.

We are born like crack babies in the Great Age of Mediation, addicted to all things media and all things digital from birth, and we remain addicted from cradle to grave by design. We may be students or professionals, unemployed or none of the above, but make no mistake: in the Great Age of Mediation we are media addicts first and foremost, and we behave – predictably and reliably – like addicts addicted to any other drug. We just don’t notice it as much as we notice other less prevalent addictions to other less prevalent drugs, perhaps because everyone around us is a media addict also and behaves the same way we do. In the Great Age of Mediation addiction is the new normal.

More ominously , however, our super-addiction to all things media and all things digital invites and all but guarantees pro­found social consequences, almost all unintended. The early years of the Great Age of Mediation have already witnessed epidemic levels of stress and lifestyle-related illness, several ruin­ous market bubbles and crashes, chronic unemployment and economic malaise, the rapid consoli­dation of immense power in huge institutions both private and public and the inexorable, per­haps irreversible erosion of civil liberties, institu­tional accountability, public trust and the gen­eral quality of life. In the Great Age of Mediation we watch the quality of our lives erode before our eyes and euphemize whatever remains as the new normal.

We are – to quote the late great media ecologist Neal Postman – Amusing Ourselves to Death, and there’s no turning back the clock, no stuffing the high-tech genie back into a somewhat lower-tech bottle. Pulling the plug and abstinence are fast-track solutions to failure in the Great Age of Mediation. The best we can do is hope and work to moderate our own behaviors and find a bet­ter and more livable way to co-exist with our super-addiction to all things media and all things digital before it consumes us entirely. We need to restore the quality of life stolen from us over the past generation, and we need to protect the quality of life for future generations. And we need to begin right now. The Media Addict’s Handbook is my commitment to the deliberate search for a viable way to moderate our behavior and help restore the quality and promise of American life in the Great Age of Mediation.

Below you’ll find an excerpt from the chapter, A Brief History of Digital

Popular culture by definition cannot tolerate critical self-examination. It simply cannot pause to turn the spotlight inward, nor can it spare the requisite time to fashion any meaningful historical narrative. Like a shark in the water, popular culture must always keep moving forward or die. Thus is history in the Great Age of Mediation rendered essentially stillborn and inert – at best a quiet and reflective respite from the clamor of the present.

That said, I feel a personal obligation to set the record straight and to provide an explanation for how we suddenly woke up one day to find ourselves so firmly ensconced in the Great Age of Mediation. As is often the case, however, the truth bears little resemblance to popular myth and legend. Though brief, what follows below is wholly unabridged and completely factual…

The 1980s

It may seem hard to believe these days – especially when our personal lives are so crammed with so many digital devices – but the digital revolution didn’t begin at home. It didn’t begin at home simply because there was no functional or otherwise compelling reason for consumers to buy personal computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, so the home market fizzled out soon enough and didn’t re-emerge in strength until the mid-1990s with the rise of the Internet. Instead, the digital revolution began in the office where applications for PCs were patently obvious, and it came of age not with the introduction of the personal computer as a consumer product in the late 1970s and early 80s, but with the adoption, maturation and utter ubiquity of the electronic spreadsheet as the dominant corporate tool just a few years later. The sudden ability to project and manipulate corporate numbers with a facility and scale previously impossible and un­im­agined delivered immense power to the captains of industry and finance and gave rise to a high-tech Wall Street culture whose influence and dominance con­tinues to grow virtually unabated in direct relationship to the power and ubiquity of the chips and devices that power it.

“We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”

– Marshall McLuhan

The sudden flurry of M&A activity, the Black Monday stock market crash of October 1987, and the collapse of the savings and loan industry later in the same decade were all early manifestations of an overly enthusiastic corporate rush to adopt and deploy a digital tool whose inherent power and sudden ability to project immense scale far surpassed our limited ability to mitigate and moderate any associated risk.

Meanwhile, the introduction of cable TV in the early 1980s fragmented urban audiences and forever changed the commercial media landscape. In lieu of the ability to reach mass audiences like their established broadcast counter­parts, the fledgling cable networks sold the ability to target their audiences much more efficiently instead. Suddenly, agency media planners and buyers were besieged by armies of cable network sales reps, all of whom extolled the virtues of effective targeting based on extensive data-driven audience research. The working vernacular of advertising and market­ing began to change accordingly as the primary industry focus, infrastructure and billing mechanisms shifted away from creative execution and moved towards media, a tool-driven migration made possible and powered by the wholesale adoption and application of the electronic spreadsheet. The sheer number-crunching power, appeal and corporate ubiquity of the electronic spreadsheet all but guaranteed the correspond­ing migration of agency resources from the message to the medium and – true to the sage observation of pioneer media ecologist Marshall McLuhan – the medium indeed became the message.

Still, someone had to sell the surging Wall Street and high-tech cultures (not to mention all the digital hardware and software that rode shotgun with them) to Main Street America. Enter the production-line template for the post-modern MBA, a thoroughly digital technocrat formally trained in both marketing and financial disciplines. It’s no mistake that the equally rapid ascents of the Wall Street and digital media cultures coincided, as both were driven by graduates of the same MBA programs of the same schools, and both were favored stepchildren of the exact same tool: the electronic spreadsheet – without a doubt the most powerful, persuasive and thoroughly abused technology of all time.

The 1990s

The explosive evangelism of the World Wide Web as a commercial medium and the financial promiscuity of the brief dot com era that rode shotgun with it were entirely consistent with the characteristics of a media-driven youth movement, not unlike the one that spread rock and roll and free love around the world via commercial radio and TV in the 1960s. During the six years between 1995 and 2000, legions of youthful MBAs – most with little or no actual hands-on experience in marketing and advertising – assumed complete control over what would soon become history’s most potent and powerful medium…

The Media Addict's Handbook not only explains how our super-addiction to all things media and all things digital -- again, like any other addiction to any other narcotic -- adversely affects us in all possible ways, but also offers a proven program to help reclaim and restore the quality of our lives as a reflection of how and where and with whom we invest our time and faith. Hope you’ll check it out on or on

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