Questioning the “New Normal”

By: Mary L. Rothschild

Amazon’s advertisement: “We are the People With the Smile on the Box,” brought media ecologist Neil Postman to mind. On page 20 of his book Technopoly, he says:

New technologies alter the structure of our interests: the things we think about. They alter the character of our symbols: the things we think with. And they alter the nature of community: the arena in which thoughts develop (20).

Amazon embraces this role. In fact it, well – advertises it. While personalizing the company with images of their handmade drawings of iPads, etc. and listing their pivotal achievements as their  “moon landings,” etc., the message is clear: “We’ve changed the culture and there’s no questioning it.” Listen to the voice over that accompanies cheery pictures of, among other things, Kindles at the gym and in the hands of young children:

We’re the re-inventors of normal. We dream of making things that change your life, then disappear into your everyday-making the revolutionary routine. Our accomplishments are things you barely think about, but can’t imagine not having. …And when we build something new, you can expect everything to change. Look around. What once seemed wildly impractical is now completely normal. That “normal” just begs to be messed with.

Clever. While there’s no denying that this advertisement is factually accurate for many of us, in flaunting its role as culture shifter, Amazon pre-empts the critical thinking that could start with the question: What was life like before? What is the tradeoff? That line of thinking might lead to memories of the gym as a time to “slough off the brain cells,” be away from all demands for one’s attention and simply take care of oneself. It might conjure memories of discovering a life-changing book serendipitously while browsing in the neighborhood bookstore. Or, it might make us wonder whether looking at a digital device is the best way to use time in a hammock with a young child, especially since pediatricians advise against screen time for children under two, and limits for older children. I’m not saying I have the answer. The answer is unique to each individual and family, but I do have the question.

If we don’t accept without reservation that this is the “new normal,” we might just begin to question the price we pay, in numerous ways, for 24/7 media exposure – the “new normal.” We might just tell Amazon and other marketers that, much as we appreciate having their products when we do need them, our unmediated sensory life and that of our children is not to be messed with.

Mary Rothschild is the director of Healthy Media Choices.