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Media Literacy in the Digital Age: Navigating Information Overload

  • 23 Jan 2024

Introduction

Our life functions on multiple digital levels today. Our lives are intensely intertwined with technology, such that we rely on digital devices from the most personal spheres of our life, the social and communicative spheres, the study and educational spheres, to work and professional spheres. Given how the trajectory of the digital age around us functions, media also plays an inevitable role in our lives. We consume media in various forms of media, exponentially on an everyday basis, through the television, social media, news platforms, newspapers, and the entertainment forte to name a few. Thus, with the access to these spaces, comes the responsibility of using them in a safe, informed and aware manner, without harming ourselves or anyone else virtually, emotionally or in any other way.

What is Media Literacy?

Media literacy in the age of information is the ability to critically analyze and evaluate the messages, sources, and intentions of various media content, such as print, audio, video, and digital media. It also involves the skills to create and communicate one’s own media messages effectively and ethically.

Media Literacy is essential for people to navigate the complex and diverse media landscape, to recognize and resist misinformation and manipulation, and to participate in democratic and civic processes. It empowers people to become informed, responsible, and active media consumers and producers.

Trends of the Digital Age

Some of the trends that are shaping the media and digital age are:

  • User-generated content (UGC): UGC is the content created and shared by users on various platforms, such as social media, video streaming, and blogs.
    • It can include videos, photos, memes, podcasts, reviews, and more. UGC can provide entertainment, information, education, and social connection to users and creators.
    • This content can also influence consumer behavior, public opinion, and cultural trends. For example, the creators being PR packages on social media by beauty brands comes under the umbrella of UGC.
  • Immersive media: Immersive media is the set of technologies that create a sense of presence and immersion in a virtual or augmented environment.
    • Immersive media include virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and 360-degree video.
    • It can enhance the user experience, engagement, and interactivity of various media content, such as games, movies, education, and tourism.
  • Data-driven media: The media which use data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) to create, distribute, and personalize media content.
    • Data-driven media can help media companies and advertisers understand user preferences, behavior, and feedback, and optimize their content and strategies accordingly.
    • Such medi can enable users to access more relevant, diverse, and customized content.

Types of Information on Digital Platforms

Information on digital platforms can be classified into different types based on the purpose, format, and source of the content. Some of these broad categories are:

  • Informative: This type of information provides factual, objective, and reliable data or knowledge about a topic, such as news, statistics, or research.
    • Informative information can help users learn, understand, and make decisions. Examples of informative information are Wikipedia articles, World Health Organization reports, or Google Scholar papers.
  • Persuasive: This type of information aims to influence, convince, or motivate users to adopt a certain point of view, attitude, or behavior. Persuasive information can appeal to users’ emotions, values, or interests.
    • Examples of persuasive information are Amazon product reviews, TED talks or podcasts.
  • Entertainment: This type of information provides amusement, enjoyment, or pleasure to users. Entertaining information can stimulate users’ imagination, creativity, or humor.
    • Examples of entertaining information are Netflix or other OTT mediums, apps like Spotify or Youtube for songs, or Instagram and Facebook.
  • Interactive: This type of information allows users to participate, communicate, or collaborate with other users or the platform itself. Interactive information can enhance users’ engagement, interactivity, and feedback.
    • Examples of interactive information are Facebook posts, Zoom calls, or Kahoot! quizzes.

Information Overload and its Ill-Consequences

Information overload in the digital age is the state of being exposed to more information than one can process, comprehend, or use effectively. Information overload can have negative consequences for individuals and society like cognitive overload, emotional distress and social isolation. Information overload can overwhelm the brain’s capacity to process and store information, leading to reduced attention, memory, and learning. Cognitive overload can impair decision making, problem solving, and critical thinking skills.

Information overload can cause stress, anxiety, frustration, and fatigue. Such emotional distress can affect mental health, well-being, and and can also reduce the ability to cope with uncertainty, ambiguity, and change. In the social domain, Information overload can reduce the quality and quantity of social interactions, as people become more absorbed in their devices and online content. Social isolation can undermine the sense of belonging, empathy, and trust. It can also increase the risk of loneliness, depression, and social alienation.

Media Literacy as a Consumer v/s a Producer

Media literacy can be perceived and interpreted both as a consumer and as a producer of media content, but the skills and goals may differ depending on the role. Some of the differences are:

  • As a consumer, media literacy helps to protect oneself from misinformation, manipulation, and persuasion. As a producer, media literacy helps to create ethical, responsible, and transparent media content that respects the audience and the public interest.
  • As a consumer, media literacy involves asking questions about the media content, such as who created it, why, how, and for whom. As a producer, media literacy involves answering these questions and providing evidence, sources, and context for the media content.
  • As a consumer, media literacy requires checking facts, comparing sources, and seeking quality information. As a producer, media literacy requires providing facts, acknowledging sources, and adhering to ethical codes of sharing quality information.
  • As a consumer, media literacy enables one to develop one’s own informed and balanced opinion on various issues. As a producer, media literacy enables one to communicate one’s opinion effectively and persuasively, while respecting different perspectives and viewpoints.

Way Towards Media and Digital Literacy

To be well-literate in using digital media is a quintessential part of being an aware individual. It is important to ask questions about the media content we encounter, such as who created it, why, how, and for whom. Asking questions can help us identify the purpose, perspective, and credibility of the information, and to detect any bias, manipulation, or misinformation. It is also advisable to verify the accuracy, validity, and reliability of the information we receive, especially if it is controversial, sensational, or emotional. Checking facts can help us avoid spreading false or misleading information, and to correct any errors or misunderstandings.

It is beneficial to consult multiple and diverse sources of information, especially if they offer different or opposing views on the same topic. Comparing sources can help us gain a broader and deeper understanding of the issue, and to develop our own informed and balanced opinion. Choosing quality over quantity when it comes to information consumption can help us prioritize, filter, and organize the information that is relevant, useful, and meaningful to us, and to avoid distractions and interruptions.

It is essential to reflect critically on the information we consume and produce, and on how it affects us and others so that we recognize and resist misinformation and manipulation, and develop approaches toward an informed participation in democratic and civic processes.

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