On March 20, 2017, Louise Dwerryhouse admitted to Globe and Mail her darkest secret – that she was a binge eater. For years, her compulsive eating had brought her to the lows of eating off people’s plates after they were finished, swigging maple syrup directly from the bottle, and spending $20 a day on junk food. Dwerryhouse felt compelled to come forward after the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders finally included binge eating among its list of psychiatric disorders.
On May 17, 2017, Complex published an article about Brooke, a 12-year-old girl who had been excessively addicted to her iPhone. “It was always about refreshing my feed and I’d stay up until like 4:30 in the morning,” she said. She set up multiple Instagram and Snapchat accounts, and even became involved in a blackmail attempt involving her nude photos. Brooke was eventually admitted to a mental health treatment centre.
Louise and Brooke do not know each other, and if put together in a room might not even be able to understand each other’s experiences. And yet there are shocking similarities between their stories. The problem is that while there are countless well-known stories of people like Louise that have ended in tragedy, the stories of the Brookes of the world are only now just coming into focus. While the differences are stark, it still begs the question; is over-consumption of media as dangerous as over-consumption of food has proven to be?
It’s been common knowledge over the past few years the over-consumption of junk food is linked to childhood obesity, a condition which will bring on multiple health problems including heart disease and early death. But studies have also shown a correlation between time spent on social media websites and mental health problems. According to the Telegraph UK, “children who spend more than three hours each school day on social media websites like Facebook and Twitter are more than twice as likely to suffer poor mental health.”
And these problems are not only affecting children. Adults over-eat too; Oprah went on the record in 2011 confessing to binge-eating 30 pounds of macaroni and cheese and bread pudding when her show and movies were being criticized. For media consumption, those 30 pounds can be achieved through multi-tasking. According to eMarketer, “Like a Coney Island contestant stuffing hot dogs into his mouth with both hands, people are often using multiple media at the same time.” This has led to US adults spending an average of 12 hours on major media in 2017. This over-consumption seems to be dumbing us down; research from the University of Waterloo shows a negative correlation between smartphone use and intelligence.
But if all the facts are showing us that over-consumption is making us dumber and killing us faster, why aren’t we doing something about it? Well – because there are a ton of evidence being spewed out by corporations that point in the opposite direction. It was recently discovered that the sugar industry had started funding research going back as far as the 1960’s to cast doubt on sugar’s contribution to heart disease, by shifting the blame to fat. Likewise, social media sites employ notification numbers and algorithmic filtering to “monitor the response of users to see if those tweaks kept them on the site longer or increased their engagement.” (Computerworld) None of these industry techniques keep you from being able to moderate your consumption, but they keep you from thinking about it as a logical choice.
But these companies don’t have their eggs in one metaphorical food basket. As any smart investor would do, they’ve been hedging their bets by investing in the opposite side of the movement. For the food industry, it’s diet products. Weight Watchers is owned by Heinz, while Slimfast, is owned by Unilever (“which also owns the Ben & Jerry brand and Wall’s sausages”). As for the media? We already see media sensations like Tim Ferris advocating a “low-information diet”, where users do not consume any media that does not suit a specific purpose. Ferris has managed to get himself to a net worth $100 million by selling books, writing blog articles and doing presentations on this claim.
While Louise has learned to cope with her binge-eating, and Brooke has left her treatment centre with a greater awareness of her addiction, the temptations are still around every corner. In today’s world, it is all too common for any one of us to buy Girl scout cookies by the shopping mall and wash it down with some Netflix, with no regard this consumption has on our physical and mental health. But maybe we’d rather not know. Maybe we’re OK with being a little less smart and die a little younger if it means we get to be surrounded by the comfort food and virtual companionship provided by the big guys.
This piece was originally a submission to The Lifted Brow. You can also find it on Wattpad.