Millennium Post

Boon or bane?

For all its benefits, the Media and Entertainment industry must be curtailed in order to protect younger generations from the effects of overexposure and addiction

The 21st century has witnessed a boom in the media and entertainment industry across the world. Entertainment was originally identified with street performers, theatres, films, music and comic books and the timings were generally evenings and holidays. Things have changed. Today entertainment is a full-fledged commercial industry primarily 'supply-driven' with humongous consumption. The growth of information technology coupled with the digital revolution redefined entertainment. Transportation of ideas of entertainment and influence market has become a business strategy. Besides films, products of entertainment include TV serials, online games, out of home (OOH), animation and visual effect (VFX), music apps and reality show contest; and they have swarmed the global market. The M&E industry today is a significant contributor to the economy and provides both direct and indirect employment to around five million people.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers forecast, the US, the largest market in the world, alone has a lion's share of 33 per cent of the global business and is expected to reach $804 billion by 2021. Media and Entertainment industry is set to expand at a CAGR of 13.5 per cent over 2019-24. In India, the business is expected to reach around $43.93 million by 2024.

However, notwithstanding its substantial contribution to the economy, the M&E industry has much to answer for sever fallouts on society. Smartphones today, more than a means of communication, have become gadgets of entertainment; age, societal restrictions, morality or religion no longer seem to deter the desire to experience. The basic concerns of a human society namely, proper mental development, independent analytical thinking, spiritual and ethical development pose serious challenges today as digital entertainment hampers them.

As Buddha said "We are shaped by our thoughts. We become what we think". Today kids find the digital entertainment products more comforting than grandmother's fairy tales that once imparted moral training and social responsibility. Exposure to cell phones and TV, as researchers found out, led to disturbed brain activity, sleep disruptions, and poor academic performance. Research by Jenny Radesky, clinical instructor in developmental-behavioural paediatrics at the Boston University found that instead of direct human to human interaction, using a tablet or smartphone to divert a child's attention, could be detrimental to "their social-emotional development"; it impairs development of their internal mechanisms of self-regulation. These devices may replace the hands-on activities important for the development of sensorimotor and visual-motor skills, which are important for the learning and application of maths and science, Radesky feels.

Children's Technology Review, an independent publication that monitors kid's interactive media, says that there are more than 40,000 kids' games available on iTunes and Google Play. YouTube today is children's favourite as parents have also found it a handy 'digital baby sitter'. 'YouTube Kids' is a service section aimed at the next target group of marketing products, obviously indoctrinating the kids with the ways of future indulgence. Amazon and Netflix are not far behind in making the best of the market. The BBC is also reported to be planning a big entertainment package for kids through iPlayer service.

Children are engulfed by a flood of entertainment products and parents hardly moderate kids' digital behaviour, especially concerning inappropriate stuff, as the majority of themselves get hooked on to the charms of digital entertainments. While the aged people have found a splendid recluse in apps of spiritual discourses and fitness, they hardly save time to guide and mentor the younger lot using their rich experience of life. Young people fall easy prey to the temptation of the products. The natural victim is the intellectual growth that hinders the development of a well-rounded personality. The content of entertainment being largely uncensored the young minds are exposed to harmful fantasies, glorious ways of crimes and not to mention unfettered explicit content a click away. Kaiser Foundation's research in 2010, found that US youths spent more than seven and a half hours a day using media. The BBC said it had found that 16- to 24-year-olds spend more time with Netflix in a week than with all of BBC TV.

The business employs techniques of persuasion through psychological appeal and uses websites and social media to influence trends, build numbers, through shares and 'likes'. It also includes corporate partnerships through advertising and promos to build excitement. In short, it's a meticulously planned strategy to indoctrinate people to entertainment and habituate them to products: a conspiracy to sell unwarranted stuff to helpless consumers and profit at the cost of public goods. Tobacco and alcohol industries are way more socially responsible in this regard. The entertainment industry is not fettered by the established ethical and spiritual values. Negative thoughts involving violence, illicit sex, cruelty, the glorification of crimes cannot be permitted in the garb of entertainment.

When there is so much of hue and cry against issues like plastic ban, tobacco, and liquor, one wonders why similar enthusiasm is not witnessed around against the toxic entertainment market which entraps people into addiction. It leads escapism to squander away precious time instead of engaging in productive activities. Youth is being tranquilised with the excess doses of entertainment and consequently, inertia is setting in. Soon the age-old saying 'Work is worship' may become obsolete.

Abhijit Banerjee in Poor Economics observes that "the poor often lack critical pieces of information and believe things that are not true" and underscores it as a reason for the poverty trap. Conversely, can we say that the affordable sections are not aware of what they are buying in digital entertainment? If they do, don't they realise that on one hand unproductive expenditure is draining their hard-earned savings and damaging their productive talents on the other? Maybe we may need a different 'RCT's here too - Abhijit's prescription (pun intended).

M&E industry has no corporate social responsibility to address the adverse impact of the digital apps and products on society; any more than the consumers have a personal responsibility in protecting themselves from the same. A plethora of laws are in force about print media and cable TV, but no law to regulate digital entertainment. Whereas the motion picture industry is controlled by the Censor Board, such an arrangement is conspicuous by its absence vis-à-vis digital entertainment. The Government has left it to the industry with the hope of self-regulation. Its high time we have risen to the occasion if only we perceive rightly the danger looming large in terms of degeneration of society owing to the 'entertainment' market.

The National Child Research Center too can step in as indiscriminate exposure of children to digital entertainment is an indirect violation of the basic right to a healthy and normal childhood. Invoking judicial activism is the lost resort of common man as it often helped fill serious gaps in social legislation – environmental pollution is an example. The digital pollution in the garb of entertainment is no less evil. All we need is a campaign for awareness in people against the perils of excessive entertainment.

The writer is a former Addl. Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh. Views expressed are strictly personal

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