Advertisements & Mental Health

Even as a young child, watching TV in my living room, I couldn’t stand commercials. Most of my life, I assumed that was just the obvious reaction to people trying to sell you shit you don’t want. I thought everyone saw them as annoying, if not infuriating. My anger towards advertisements has only grow as I’ve gotten older. Only recently have I begun to realize that not everyone views these ads the way I do.

A friend of mine always seems confused or surprised when I start ranting and raving about advertisements. I’m usually the one to get overly animated about topics that anger me, so I figured she was just put off by my fiery passion. But since then, one of my new coworkers has repeatedly shown me ads on his phone that he found funny. That really threw me. Why would anyone purposefully show me that? Why would anyone watch an ad intentionally? This bizarre interaction is what led me to realize that some people actually don’t mind ads at all, some even enjoy them, or at the very least, accept them as a necessary evil of a capitalist society. I guess I should have realized this sooner given that so many people inexplicably love to watch the ads during the Super Bowl.

Today I would like to address those people out there that have been fooled. Advertisements are not cute, or funny, or interesting. The advertisers are not your friends. Advertisements are not “necessary.” I’ll start there. I can still remember asking my mom why the radio was free as a little girl. I’ll never forget what she told me: The radio is free, because the advertisers pay to broadcast their messages. From there, it didn’t take me long to make the obvious connection to television. I simply couldn’t understand why we pay for cable AND have to watch advertisements. Shouldn’t it be one or the other? The answer is yes, and it used to be that way. Now despite the laughably high cable rates, the commercial breaks continue to get longer and longer.

I haven’t paid for cable since I’ve lived on my own and never plan too. Yet, I see this exploitative business model playing out in Hulu and other streaming platforms now. I was newly enraged while reading the message displayed on Hulu because of my ad blocker. “We are unable to show a message from our sponsors.” Excuse me? Fuck you, Hulu. I am your sponsor. When do I get to broadcast a message? Luckily I just get to sit in silence while my ad blocker does it’s job.

Some of you might be wondering why I wouldn’t just watch the ad, given that I have to wait the allotted amount of time anyway. I have a very good answer for that. I refuse to be brainwashed and manipulated. Advertisements aren’t just annoying, they are an assault to the senses. There are countless studies showing the negative mental health effects of advertisements, particularly on children. Children subjected to advertisements are more likely to eat unhealthy foods, be materialistic, and have body image issues. And that isn’t a side-effect, that’s the goal. That’s how marketing works.

The unspoken goal of all advertising is to make you feel like you don’t have enough, aren’t happy enough, aren’t liked enough, that you simply aren’t enough. The promise is that if you purchase their products, then you’ll be happy, popular, and fulfilled. Not only does that messaging deteriorate your mental health and wellbeing, it is also contributing to the climate crisis. When everyone continuously feels unsatisfied and feels they need more and more stuff to be happy, it takes a toll on the Earth’s resources. Sadly even if you are aware of all this, it doesn’t make the negative mental health effects of consuming this content any less damaging. It’s a mild form of brainwashing in my opinion. Especially when it comes to the impressionable minds of children. To make matters worse, with most of the content children are exposed to coming from the internet, there are even less protections in place to combat this, like there are on cable television.

To me, advertising is no different than the government allowing companies to pollute the air and water (which of course they do allow.) The reoccurring theme of capitalism rears its ugly head once again. Companies are encouraged to make money at the expense of the consumer’s health. Those companies aren’t my friends. They are my enemies. And I refuse to listen to their propaganda. So if you’re someone that doesn’t get mad about advertisements, maybe it’s time that you start.

Lucky Strike cigarettes advertisement from 1930 - ABC News (Australian  Broadcasting Corporation)

The Social Dilemma

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The Social Dilemma is a new documentary on Netflix that everyone needs to see. It is a harrowing look at what social media and the internet in general are doing to us as individuals and society as a whole. I’ve long suspected that this new age of technology was having a deleterious effect on our brains, but never could I have imagined how serious it actually is.

We have been trapped under the wheels of a machine that we created and set into motion but now have no power to stop. The tropes about robots taking over and destroying humanity didn’t manifest in exactly the way we pictured it, but I would argue the age of AI overlords has already begun. We have become the victims of our own advancements. Our biology and slow rate of evolutionary change simply cannot keep up with and stay on top of the rapid growth of technology.

Our psychology is being used against us for the sole benefit of corporations and advertisers. This documentary points out that we are no longer the consumers. We are the products being sold. More specifically our attention is being sold. And it seems for the most part we are helpless to overcome the addictive nature of this new market. Not only that, while we feed into this system, society as a whole is becoming more and more anxious, depressed, and isolated from one another. This isn’t necessarily a purposeful outcome, yet it is an insignificant side effect for the people and algorithms running the show.

If you’d like some first hand evidence, try logging off of Facebook for a few weeks. I have been avoiding that site for over a year now. You wouldn’t believe the lengths the site has gone to try to reel me back in. I found it funny at first, seeing notifications for less and less relevant things when I did open the app. How desperate Facebook is to somehow regain my attention! But now I think it’s actually quite scary.

I will say I have felt much better mentally since I stopping using Facebook. I don’t spend nearly as much time on my phone for one thing. I am not weighed down by constant updates and online drama. I don’t waste time thinking up a status update or obsessively checking to see how many people liked it. It is freeing. I feel lighter now.

However, despite my success at overcoming the algorithm in that regard, I am still not completely free of the strong psychological drive to seek dopamine “rewards” online. For instance, I now post on here everyday. I do greatly look forward to seeing how many people like what I’ve written. Although I limit myself to checking my notifications once a day. I also still scroll my feed and post drawings on Tumblr. Not to mention I am perpetually watching either YouTube or Netflix all day long.

While I am able to remember, and think back fondly, on a time before the internet and social media, newer generations will not have this luxury. This new form of society is all they have ever known. Soon humanity will not even be able to conceive of a world without these detrimental influences.

I desperately long for the simplicity of my childhood spent away from screens, enjoying the real world. But even more than that, I pity the children of today. They have become victims without even realizing it. And what choice do they truly have? While disconnecting from our devices is liberating and beneficial in many ways, it is also extremely isolating in others. It is choosing to be apart from the rest of society in a major way. Even though it is better for your own mental health, it is also lonely, a virtual exile.

Ultimately I don’t know what the solution could be to this problem we’ve unwittingly created. Humans are forever hopeful. The executives that once had a hand in creating this new world seem to believe we can overcome it somehow. But I don’t know if I agree. I see it as just another sign of our rapidly advancing inevitable demise as a society and as a species. Although I sincerely hope I am wrong.

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