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Elizabeth P

Apr 10, 2024

Read Part 1 of this series here

Media and the Orienting Response

In 1927, Soviet neurologist Ivan Pavlov coined the term “orienting response” to describe the human instinct to respond to any sudden or new stimulus, including movement or sounds. Pavlov also referred to this instinct as the “Что такое?” (“What is it?”) reflex, since it evolved to help us notice and assess potential prey, predators, mates, or enemies.

When faced with a novel stimulus, the body freezes in place and faces the source of that stimulus, the eyes and ears focus on it, and parts of the nervous system associated with learning become more active – this response lasts around 4-6 seconds after each new stimulus.

When the orienting response is overworked by excessive novel stimuli, the eyes and ears remain focused, the body stays still as it is oriented towards each stimulus, but attention and learning drop to lower levels than when the orienting response is not active.

Researchers estimated that advertisements, action sequences, and music videos trigger the orienting response at around once per second; imagine how much more frequent this must be while “doomscrolling” through all the advertisements and posts that algorithmic social media feeds have carefully curated for you!

In addition, one’s metabolism when lying in bed decreases by 14.5% if staring at a screen – this combination of fatigue with an overstimulated orienting response induces an almost trance-like state, leaving viewers unmotivated to look away from the screen.

Children, including iPad kids, are our future

Media which overstimulates the orienting response already has negative cognitive effects on adults, and these effects may be even more damaging to the developing brains of babies and toddlers. One infamous example is the Netflix series CoComelon, which some concerned parents have nicknamed “Cocainemelon” after seeing that their small children seem to be addicted to it.

While the show is on, their toddlers sit quietly while their eyes are glued to the screen. However, after turning off the screen, they throw unusually intense temper tantrums or even have other behavioral issues that are typically associated with diagnoses of ADHD or autism.


       #cocomelon #cocomelonchallenge vs #sesamestreet 😒    

Child development specialist Jerrica Sannes explain that the CoComelon’s combination of frequent scene changes with bright colors and fast-paced music triggers excessive dopamine production – much like an addictive drug. Once the digital drug supply is cut off, the drop in dopamine causes the “withdrawal” symptoms that parents have reported.

These extreme changes in dopamine condition a toddler’s brain into expecting the same level of stimulation when engaging in other activities, causing difficulties with playing and creativity. The long-term effects of frequently viewing overstimulating media in childhood are still unknown, but time will tell if these cognitive and emotional issues persist into adulthood.

Of course, CoComelon is not the only thing to blame here. Children who have not watched that particular show but still grew up with excessive screen time, commonly referred to as “iPad kids”, are also experiencing similar developmental issues. One young TikTok user criticized Millennial parents for their “bizarre and terribly behaved” children, urging his Generation Z peers to not make the same mistake of raising iPad kids.

Many public school teachers are considering quitting their jobs, citing widespread illiteracy and bad behavior among their students as reasons why they can no longer handle teaching.

Some people blame the individual actions of parents today for creating a generation of iPad babies, but no phenomenon exists in a vacuum. During the second half of the nineteenth century, “remedies” containing morphine were marketed to parents as a method of “soothing” their children – at this same period in time, capitalism was developing in the United States, and proletarians had to choose between starvation and selling their labor power to a capitalist for 12 hours each day.

Getting kids hooked on opiates is much more frowned upon today, so the capitalist class now markets addictive devices to overworked parents who have very little time or energy to dedicate to raising their children. In addition, seeing the success of making adults reliant on handheld touchscreens, it is likely that tech monopolies want to do the same to children to ensure that they will have a reliable market for generations to come.

Why do they want us to be distracted and emotionally-reactive?

Considering the effects of technology overuse on children – particularly inattentiveness, emotional dysregulation, and illiteracy – it is understandable to hope that the capitalists will see these effects on their future workforce and start putting age restrictions on smartphones and tablets.

However, the capitalist class may no longer have as much of a need for literate and attentive workers in the future if AI becomes advanced enough, and these cognitive effects also have the added bonus of making the population less capable of critical thinking and more susceptible to propaganda.

Now that the US-led unipolar world order is declining, it desperately attempts to preserve itself by lashing out through military aggression, and US capitalist-controlled media churns out propaganda to justify this militarism.

Western media coverage of the “Russian invasion of Ukraine” and the “Hamas attack on Israel” shows that their attempts to manufacture consent for war rely on two main assumptions about their audience: they lack the attention span and historical literacy to have any context for these “unprovoked” actions, and atrocity propaganda (while ignoring the atrocities committed by the “good guys”) will emotionally manipulate them into believing that the so-called enemy is irredeemably evil.

By staying focused and keeping a level head, the imperialist propagandists' assumptions about us will backfire on them as we resist their brainwashing efforts.

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