Photo by "Dmjarvey" on Flickr Q: My kids are attached to their cell phones and laptops, and it worries me that they're not paying as much attention to the world happening around them—just the other day, I heard about how Bill Nye the Science Guy collapsed, and no one came to his aid because they were taking photos of him and tweeting about it! What can I do to ensure my children don’t end up like these onlookers?  
World-Mindful Mom in Henderson, NV

A: Dear Mom,

Yours is an excellent example of how the way we use media can insulate us from each other and from experiences, rather than encourage us to share our common humanity. If that report is accurate, it sounds like the audience members may have lost awareness of the difference between the constructed, controlled domain of media and the reality in which we live. They also may have gotten caught in the phenomenon of diffusion of responsibility—that is, given that so many people were present, they may have all assumed that someone else would respond to the emergency. So instead of being the reason that they didn’t respond, media may have simply been where they engaged their attention instead.

But that, too, is something to address. And to paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our media, but in ourselves. Media devices are not inherently problematic, and they don’t necessarily separate us from each other: Consider TV programs that research shows can help kids learn to play well with others. Bill Nye himself used television in other positive ways, to explain concepts that could not have been shared as effectively using other means. Rather than lecturing about the lives of bats or how cells divide, for example, he used his program to show us and tell us about science in a fun, fascinating way. 

The best way to make better citizens of ourselves and our children, both on- and off-line, is to be sophisticated and effective users of the media tools that we have at our disposal. This means using—and teaching others to use—all kinds of media in mindful, focused ways: to learn, to connect with each other, to communicate, and to create, and then to turn media off when the tasks we set out to do are complete. Offline, it means being engaged in and ready to react to what happens around us: When someone collapses in front of them, for example, teach them what to do, whether it be to check whether they’re okay or to call 911. And talk with them about how even when there are many people around, they should still take the responsibility of doing something to help. 

Need convincing that new media tools really have been used to connect us in powerful ways? 

  • Check out the videos being created for the Playing for Change project, which brings a mobile recording studio around the world to record music and promote peace.
  • This viral video, taken over the holidays, is a example of how technology can be used to organize and orchestrate a shared cultural experience—not only for those who happened to be in a food court in Ontario, Canada, on one particular November afternoon, but for the millions who have since viewed it on YouTube: 


Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician®


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