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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Finding Solace in Screens

In recent years, screen media has become more widely available than ever.

Screen media doesn’t just include television, but also movie theatres (which were actually the progenitors of television). Now, screen media includes computers and smartphones.

The way screen media is distributed has changed as well. Blockbuster and other video rental stores were once the go-to for many of us. I myself remember spending summer nights as a kid, biking to our local Blockbuster to pick up a couple of movies.

But alas, video rental stores are fast becoming archaic in the advent of digital media. This market, mostly instigated and dominated by Netflix, is now the predominant method of distribution for most screen media.

If we couldn’t see a TV show the night it aired, we would have to wait for a rerun, which might not have lined up with our schedules. Even worse, we would have to wait until the season was released on DVD. Now, we can just wait until it’s online.

Not only has the industry changed, but the way we consume media has changed as well. A TV show or Youtube video is widely and nearly instantaneously available to us. All we have to do is open up the app on our smartphones. I no longer have to spend an hour biking back and forth from Blockbuster, limited by my budget to buying only a few movies.

Now, let’s talk psychology.

When we watch TV, we become engaged in the lives and the narratives therein. Our capacities for curiosity and empathy cause us to share the pains and joys of the characters we watch.

What gets us engaged in a show is our natural curiosity. What keeps us engaged is the immersion. In psychological terms, immersion ultimately stems from learned behavior from our reactions to stimuli.

In a psychology class, they tell you about two different types of learning behavior: operant conditioning and classical conditioning. Operant conditioning says that the more reinforcement you give someone, the more likely they are to repeat a behavior. Classical conditioning concerns how we reflexively respond to stimuli and how we can associate stimuli with ideas. A great example of this is when a dog hears a door open; their ears may perk up, hoping the owner will come through the door.

In TV, there is reinforcement (stuff that increases behavior). In psychology, there is also the opposite of reinforcement: punishment (stuff that decreases behavior). There are different types of reinforcement and punishment as well: positive and negative.

In this case, positive and negative don’t necessarily mean good and bad. They just mean that something is being added (positive), or something is being removed (negative). You can have negative reinforcement (removing the chains off a slave for good behavior), or positive punishment (adding the chains because of bad behavior).

Being engaged or immersed in a show can often mean you’re letting go, otherwise temporarily forgetting about life outside the screen. If life is stressful and you’re watching TV, removing the ideation of your actual life is a form of negative reinforcement, which reinforces the behavior of watching TV.

Of course, that’s not to say life is bad. Maybe it’s more complicated than that. Perhaps it’s because we know that these shows and movies will have a better outcome—a happy ending—whereas in our own lives, things are more open-ended.

One day flows into the next, which becomes months and years, and there isn’t really a resolution, except for death. In the meantime, we aren’t sure if we’re choosing the right path in life. Many of us don’t know if we’re able to say that we’ve led a happy life on our deathbeds. It’s an insecurity that many of us share.
Thus, the solace we humans find in TV and movies.