Extra! Extra! Pavlov’s dogs bite iPod’s children

Please reach into the gray matter that functions as the human hard drive to recall the Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov who discovered that he could condition dogs to drool with just the little ring-a-ding ding of a bell.

Now consider point, click and drag media; the media we scan at our desks between tasks; the music we pipe into our ears; the magazines and newspapers we flip through while waiting. We;re hungry for media, hungry as hounds. We want it strong! We want it raw! We want it now!

Melodramatic? Perhaps. But consider that media are not simply enjoyable experiences. Media are an industry that packages thoughts and emotions. Words embody of ideas. Sounds, pictures and images provoke emotional responses. Media products feed human aspirations and desires just as surely as food fill our bellies.

And that makes me wonder: are we conditioning ourselves to be drooling idiots, hooked on short but continuous fixes of profit-making pre-packaged thought or emotion?

This idea is not entirely my own. Rather in my typically hyperbolic fashion I’ve tried to capture the essence a 22-page essay titled “The Age of Egocasting.” It was written by Christine Rosen for a journal called The New Atlantis. Both Rosen and the journal are favorites that I’ve blogged about before.

Egocasting is a particularly brilliant piece that I urge you to read. In it Rosen writes:

“TiVo, iPod, and other technologies of personalization are conditioning us to be the kind of consumers who are, as Joseph Wood Krutch warned long ago, “incapable of anything except habit and prejudice,” with our needs always preemptively satisfied.”

Ah, consumers. My new least-favorite word. It conjures up images of people sitting on couches with their head back on the cushions, a funnel over their mouths as stuff gets poured into it. Remember that media is tied to advertising. And advertising is the bread and butter and mother’s milk of media. Ads drive consumption. Does anyone else hear a bell?

Rosen’s essay is a year old. I’ve been carrying it around in my to-blog folder all that time, and take it out today for a variety of reasons: because it’s the Christmas season and I feel bullied by the culture to buy things I can’t afford for people who don’t need them; because the situation Rosen articulates has not changed; and  most importantly because I imagine — and if you read this blog, you know my imagination to be large — that there is a solution to this media-enabled trained-seal syndrome that Rosen describes.

I believe the solution is media creation. Taking media into our own hands. Making it and shaping it to amuse ourselves and our circle of friends; to have some impact on whatever small portion of the world we can affect; to simply see our own thoughts and lives expressed in words or pictures; to talk back to the mass-production system.

The alternative? To continue being the couch creatures of consumer culture, filling our heads with manufactured dreams, sitting there like so many ducks on the pate-production line, until our brains or, more likely, our checkbooks explode.