Mass Media Exposure

Imagine this.

Someone approaches you and says, "Hey. ... I want to spend the next five months doing nothing but watching television, surfing the Net and listening to music."

What would you say in return?

You might be shocked by a media overload of such unusal proportions. Five months? That's an awfully long time. Who would want to spend a whole five months like that?

You would wonder, what sort of impact could this amount of media time have on a person.

But while you are correct to ask these questions, you would be wrong to think that the scenario above is not possible. Adults and teens will spend nearly five months (3,518 hours) next year watching television, surfing the Internet, reading daily newspapers and listening to personal music devices, according to the 2007 U.S. Census Bureau's Statistical Abstract of the United States, released today.

And the census data doesn't just tally averages such as average amount of television watched in a week or average daily hours on the Internet -- it takes these numbers and puts them into greater perspective. Those weekly and daily averages total to five solid months of media exposure, according to the report.

"When we talk about time spent with media, we usually talk about weekly average patterns. The census bureau report drives home how it stacks up," said Amy Jordan, director of Media and the Developing Mind Sector of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

"We really need to start recognizing how the media is interwoven tightly into the fabric of our daily life," she said.

The report raises concerns about how this increasing amount of time spent with media is affecting us -- and specifically, how it is affecting youth. Heavy media exposure could have long-term effects on our bodies and brains that we don't realize.

"As a society, our primary concern should be protecting children so that they have an opportunity for proper development," Jordan said. "For kids, using the media has evolved into a normal process, but we don't know what it is doing to their cognitive abilities over the long run."

"I can't emphasize enough the kind of sea change that is taking place in terms of when children are starting to use the media and their sophistication with the media," she said. "Most are exposed to media from the time they wear diapers."

While television is not the only media that the census report talked about, experts agree that it is one of our biggest and most time-consuming problems.

"Time spent on the media is time we are not spending with loved ones, helping kids with homework, volunteering in one's community or doing any of the wonderful things that bring meaning to life," said Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, Health Officer for El Dorado County in California.

Experts estimate that there are more than 100 million TV-homes in the country. The average adult spends four hours everyday watching TV. The average youth 8 to 18 years old spends almost seven hours every day plugged in to the media. Nearly half of elementary school children and more than 60 percent of adolescents have television sets in their bedrooms.

Children spend more time watching television than in any other activity except sleep, experts say.

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