Time, Distance, Shielding
I can’t think of a more relevant example regarding Émile Durkheim’s concept of collective consciousness than what I’ve witnessed in response to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Durkheim’s impression of shared social norms is easily observable by assessing how people engage with social media and various broadcast media sources (legacy media, mainstream media, mass media, etc.); or simply the “media.”
Rather than evaluating such action from a morally superior perspective—determining what is good, bad, right, or wrong—I find value in approaching the topic with curiosity. This is accomplished by exploring whether or not the conduct I notice on popular media platforms is healthy or not.
Are people benefiting from inundating themselves with a near-constant barrage of media content? Is it possible that such material is designed to evoke emotive effects which are highly reactionary? Is there perhaps a healthier manner by which cognitive responses, critical thought, and logical assessment may be employed?
When considering what is or isn’t healthy in relation to COVID-19, I turn to sources such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I also think about my former employment with governmental organizations and the training I received for responding to a nuclear, biological, and/or chemical (NBC) threats.
Though knowledge and understanding of the current global pandemic is ever-changing, both the WHO and CDC promote healthy protective measures. Practices such as proper hand-washing; social distancing; avoiding excessive touching of one’s eyes, nose, and mouth; covering coughs and sneezes; and seeking competent medical care are all recommended by these organizations.
These measures are similar to the NBC steps I learned, wherein time, distance, and shielding (TDS)—as an emergent protective strategy—could be applied to a biological occurrence that threatens life. While the literal example of this danger relates to COVID-19, I’m curious about media influence as it relates to a potential hazard.
With this approach, time refers to the amount of time spent near a source, distance relates to how close one is to the source, and shielding reflects barriers placed between a person and the source. For COVID-19, a TDS example would be washing hands as quickly as possible after touching potentially infected surfaces (T), staying away from large gatherings of people when possible (D), and using personal protective equipment (e.g., N95 respirators – not recommended by the CDC for general public use at this time) or staying at home to prevent exposure (S).
Whereas TDS relates to instances of NBC catastrophe, there exists another form of toxicity to which this principle may apply. Again, not as a means of casting moral judgement—though as a method of advocating best practices regarding an improved quality of health—consider the potential for harm associated with overindulgence in media sources. Scientific literature highlighting the impact of acute and chronic stress on humans is vast, and it’s widely accepted that such strain on our systems may have a detrimental effect.
Why then do so many people cling to their electronic devices for hours on end as they experience insomnia, disgust, tightness in their chests, headaches, irritability, bodily aches, loss of pleasure, fear, clinched jaws, sorrow, racing thoughts, upset stomachs, chest pain, and many other unhealthy symptoms?
The emotive function of our minds may tell us that in order to stay informed during a perceived crisis we need to expose ourselves to eight-plus hours of media per day. Who cares about the byproduct of reduced physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral health? We need to have multiple alerts on our smartphones, which function by both classical and operant conditioning mechanisms. Does it really bother us to know we’ve been trained to behave in an unhealthy manner?
We need to exercise recursive thinking, because others will surely think we are well-informed; therefore, unhealthy side effects don’t matter as much as media content consumption. After all, who wants to be ill-informed? We need to know what the current administration said about this, what pundits said about that, how influencers interpreted the information, which celebrities renounced a particular policy, who got canceled, and how a stranger several states away opined about the matter in question. Besides, which is worse, the acute effects of COVID-19 contact or the result of chronic stress on our systems?
Suppose we treated the perpetual barrage of media content as a form of toxic exposure akin to an NBC event. What measures of TDS would be appropriate? Limiting the amount of time spent listening to the news and responding to social media posts (T), distancing from content that evokes an unhealthy physiological and psychological response (D), and instead engaging in other activities (i.e., self-care practice, pursuit of hobbies and interests, using available time to create rather than destroy, etc.) or deleting apps and turning off legacy media sources (S) may prove useful.
I’m not suggesting all media content is harmful. To do so would be akin to the cognitive distortion of overgeneralizing, drawing a faulty conclusion based on limited or questionable evidence. Even in times of significant collective despair some people have risen to the occasion and developed innovative methods to counteract the effect of COVID-19, using social media platforms.
I recently spoke with a friend, who maintains citizenship with a federally recognized tribe, as she informed me about the 2020 cancellation of the largest pow wow in the United States—the Gathering of Nations—due to COVID-19. Not discouraged by the cancellation, a number of indigenous people are using social media to coordinate a virtual pow wow called Social Distance Powwow. This form of resilience amidst adversity is only one of many examples concerning the positive aspects of media function.
If you are someone who is engaging with others in an unhealthy manner via social media, or you find that exposure to mass media sources has begun affecting your life in a harmful way, there’s help available. You don’t have to allow media full control over your life. I can help you form a TDS plan that best suits your needs. I’m Deric Hollings, LPC Intern, LMSW, and I may be able to assist you with increasing your level of functioning and help you to attain a higher level of functioning.
I am an associate psychotherapist in the Austin area, working with Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S & Associates. While my theoretical approach tends to be cognitive/behavior focused, my practice is further informed by mindfulness techniques, existential theory, and psychodynamic approaches. I look forward to scheduling an appointment with you.
I may be contacted at:
Website – www.hollingstherapy.com
Email – DericHollings@hollingstherapy.com
Phone – (512) 774-8680
For more information regarding COVID-19, please visit:
The World Health Organization – https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/prevention.html
Deric Hollings, LPC Intern, LMSW
Supervised by Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S