Much like the way Pinterest as an entity has a specific style (close your eyes and think about a typical Pinterest page, what kinds of pins are on there? You're the only one who's envisioning them) whether you're aware of it or not, the media is also steeped with a distinct set of values—that it is always better to seek the next thing (“37 Ways to Ask For A Raise”), that neediness is the root of all relationship evils (15 Reasons Your Boyfriend Left You”), and you are taking massive gulps of it every day. That's because in their attempts to be informative slash sensational, writers behind these pages must make sweeping generalizations and assumptions about the reader that may not apply to every person. But we’ve become so lazy with our consumption of information that sometimes we adopt and accept their axioms without further review. In Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, renowned psychologist Maria Konnikova divulges a weakness in our brains with a simple example: Think about a pink elephant. No doubt your brain somehow conjures up an image of a pink elephant, but here’s the catch: we know that pink elephants do not exist. And so, it takes a further step for us to correct the previous thought and acknowledge the facts. Our brains mostly function on auto-pilot, passively allowing random bits of observations and information to enter unfiltered, and it requires conscious effort to parse through the junk and make necessary corrections. Scary, isn’t it?
I fancy myself a mostly self-aware person, but then I was sitting in my therapist’s office, rattling off thought after psychotic thought about everything that’s wrong with me and the world and she was like, “Hold up—why on earth do you think that neediness equals bad and ambition equals good?” I was stunned to silence for a moment because I couldn’t cough up an answer. I went through my mental rolodex, Hmm no, it wasn’t my mom (always the first suspect), nope it wasn’t something I picked up from school either…and then it hit me: without even knowing it, I had internalized the institutional values proselytized in every magazine and social media account I was subscribed to. As unbiased as the media pretends to be, there is a cogent value structure imbibed in every headline it hurls and every story it publishes. With so much crap in the digital ether, even the most vigilant browser will likely find himself one day having an opinion about The Best Underwear To Wear To A Job Interview and he’d have no idea why. More accurately, an opinion he didn’t have up until he read it somewhere, and probably never needed to have. Try it yourself: if you take a second to think about why you have a certain opinion about something, you might find that it's because the media told you so and not actually because you believe it, or that maybe you never had a chance to form your own opinion before you were told what to feel or think.
My shrink goes on to reason with me and lay down the pros to my “problems” where I could previously only see cons. “You make neediness sound like it’s a disease, but what is so wrong with needing human connection? What about all those potential hazards that come with being overly independent? And what makes you think wanting more or better is always a good thing? There are people who don’t want a raise—is that any less valid of a decision if it makes them happy?”
I knew I was paying her for a reason.
On top of telling us what to wear or who to watch, the media often also tells us what to think. Unless it’s an op-ed, you may not think they’re pushing an agenda, but in what they choose to report on and how they phrase each lead, they’re framing your mind for how to digest the information. All I’m saying is, if you’re allergic to strawberries and they’re serving a fruit salad, make sure you inspect the bowl before consuming to figure out if this it’s really for you.