We live in a media-saturated environment. And whether we like to admit it or not, the media has a great influence on our values and worldview. It sets trends. It defines what is acceptable and what is fashionable. We often believe that the media merely represents society as it is. In fact, however, the media and reality share a dynamic relationship - the media shapes society as much as it represents it.
There is something about the media that draws us in and makes us believe. The boundaries between what is real and what is make-believe begin to blur. What each of us need to handle social media influences is the ability to distinguish fact from fiction, think critically and act independently. Here are some pointers
1 The media is everywhere: An average individual today is bombarded with over 7000 media messages every day. Be it advertisements on television, billboards, social networking sites, newspapers or subtle endorsements, the media is ubiquitous.
2 Do not let technology replace relationships: Watching television, playing video games or messaging a friend from the comfort of your living room might seem to be a convenient option, but do not let an interface replace close relationships.
3 Do not compromise on your health: Having a television in your bedroom puts you at a very high risk of developing a sleeping problem. At the same time, the sedentary lifestyle and eating habits promoted by television can lead to health problems. Make physical health a priority.
4 Question what you see: Who made this message? How might this message be perceived by different people? Does this message promote any stereotype? Who stands to gain by this message? Do not become a passive recipient of media messages. Do not blindly follow trends promoted by celebrities - question what you see and hear around you. What matters is not having the right answers, but rather, asking the right questions.
5 Become an information filter: The amount of information that is now available to each of us at the click of a button is staggering. To use the media to your advantage, however, it is important to be able to filter any information. So, judge what part of the information is reliable and useful.
6 A space for personal expression: New age media is more than just about passive observation. It is now available to each of us as a platform for self-expression. Use the media to express your views and opinions and showcase your talents.
7 Ensure personal safety at all times: Various forms of technology, especially social networking sites, can be used to infringe your privacy. It is essential, therefore, to be aware of the ways in which the media can encroach on your personal life. Take steps to safeguard personal information and safety.
The author is director, mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare