Skip to main content

My Take: My (Reluctant) Media Life

My Take: My (Reluctant) Media Life

By Suzanne Schrag | October 24, 2014

I sometimes joke that I am a Luddite. The phone I use still flips open. I do not have a data plan. I inherited my husband’s old phone when he went over to the dark side, and was quite excited to finally have a QWERTY keyboard option.


Friending me on Facebook offers little beyond practice in dealing with abandonment and not taking it personally. And my tendency to forget to charge my phone or to turn it back on after silencing it at a play or movie is a constant source of frustration to my nonvirtual friends.

At the same time, I am fascinated and even thrilled by the avenues for creativity, discovery and learning the Internet provides. For example, through random videos on the web, I have been able to hear amazing singers and musicians, been touched by social projects working to make a difference, gotten a sense of what it’s like to sail through the Alps wearing a wingsuit, witnessed feats of physical daring and emotional caring, learned how to make a killer plum jam, and developed a healthy respect for the honey badger. I love seeing people put their art out there or share something they value purely on the strength of their own belief in themselves, their talents and the desire to share with like-minded others. They’re not asking permission, or having to satisfy the powers that be, or waiting to be discovered—and I think that’s awesome.

But then there are the trolls, and the ignorant comments, and the ads, and the “I will never get those 2 minutes back” moments. All in all, my feelings about our increasingly digital world are decidedly mixed.

Looking at Digital Disasters

On the second day of the HTN conference in Austin, I attended a very engaging session, which I chose because (a) the topic—digital disasters—sounded interesting and relevant, and (b) the presenters were my neighbors in the exhibit area. Kenny Shults and Victoria Sterkin of Connected Health Solutions offer several impressive and innovative programs that address the impact of new media on adolescent development and health, and also make use of social marketing to promote behavior change. For example, My Media Life engages teens in creating social marketing campaigns on issues that matter to them, helping to shift attitudes and behaviors and shape positive peer norms, as participants conceptualize, plan and produce their own high-quality video PSAs. (Check out some of the fabulous results on their YouTube channel.)

In this session, they were presenting on their Preventing Digital Disasters workshop, which helps teens examine their own personal relationships to new media (which for them is really just media, since most have never known a world without it), its influence and effects—both positive and negative—on their lives, and the interpersonal skills they can apply in both digital and face-to-face interactions to ensure good communication and make safe and healthy choices for themselves.

What About the Adults?

And, of course, everything discussed in the workshop could easily apply to adults as well. When does our connection to our devices (Do you sleep with your phone?) begin to influence our emotions (Do you become anxious or angry when someone doesn’t text you back right away?), our stress levels (Do you feel pressure to be available 24/7 for digital communications?) and our relationships (Do you spend a lot of time thinking about what someone really meant in a text or e-mail?). In a world where people increasingly make more eye contact with their phone or computer screen each day than they do with other live human beings, how do we keep our connections meaningful and our social skills competent?

Kenny and Victoria’s stimulating workshop really brought up the many ways media and our digital lives can affect our relationships, our feelings about self and others, our risk behaviors and even our brains. Something I realized afterward is that one of my reasons for resisting building a presence on social media or embracing the smart phone phenomenon is that I don’t want to fall into those traps. I don’t want my media life to be bigger or grander or more impressive or somehow more interesting and compelling than my “real” life. Although implicit in that statement is a big assumption and bias on my part that people’s media lives are somehow “unreal.” I suspect that for many adults, and certainly many if not most adolescents, their media life is very real and no less genuine for being conducted online.

Hooked on Screen Time

Knowing I planned to attend this session on digital disasters, I made a point of looking around in the plenary session that morning to note how many people were actively using and/or dividing their attention between the speaker and a phone or other device during the presentation. At the point I started observing, I would guesstimate the number was probably 30%. By the end of the session, it was more like 60 or 70%. I don't think that's a comment on the quality of the sessionrather, it illustrates the sheer seductiveness of the screen. That compelling little device with its digital window on the world invites us to scope out a good Austin lunch spot, check in on the kids, read those work e-mails, or play words with friends—all of which nosy little me observed my tablemates doing on their screens during the course of the plenary.

Good? Bad? Decidedly mixed? Or simply a fact of life in today’s world? I sure don’t have the answers. But my inner Luddite will rest a little easier knowing there are programs and skilled practitioners out there helping adolescents (and adults) examine their relationship with the digital media in their lives, navigate it with more skill and empathy, and learn to use its power for the social good.

Suzanne Schrag is an editor and product manager at ETR. You can reach her at You cannot follow her on Twitter. Ever. Well, not yet…

Sign up for the ETR Health Newsletter.

Social Media :

  • YouTube
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Instagram