Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mental Health's Second-Hand Smoke Equivalent

In the 1980s, a singer named Joe Jackson released a song called "Cancer." The line repeated throughout the song was "everything gives you cancer." It was a parody on the seemingly endless list of everyday products and practices that in laboratories has resulted in carcinoma cell development among mice. I'm exaggerating but only because the song itself was an exaggeration.

However, I do believe that sometime in the near future we are going to hear from scientists who find that the electronic audio and video that are so pervasive in our lives and that form a background of sounds to an increasing portion of our days is the mental health equivalent of second-hand smoke. In other words, published findings will demonstrate that passive listening to this noise leads to one of several neuroses like anxiety, insomnia or some more serious threat to mental health.

Popular media undoubtedly aim to cultivate a sense of dissatisfaction among viewers and listeners and are interspersed with advertisements purporting to fulfill those unmet desires. So the question for laboratory or field research will be what are is the net outcome of this dissatisfaction among the populace. Tranquility and acceptance? Unlikely. I can't help but think of teen suicide and cyber-bullying as the result of this sense of dissatisfaction which advertisers want to inject into a younger and younger audience.

In fact, it is so widely published in popular news accounts that watching television before bedtime does contribute to sleeplessness that I have no doubt the harm of electronic media will become common knowledge soon. We hear from a national pediatrics group that children under 2 should not be exposed to television as it might interfere with cognitive development.

I can only wonder whether lawsuits will ensue, asserting that television producers and advertisers knew the dangers but still pushed the medium in an attempt to downplay the effects or even spin them into some positive outcomes.