On Media Literacy

Like many of my generation, you likely take for granted the many advances that have been made in the field of mass communication. For millenia, humankind has ruled upon the Earth with an iron fist, subjugating species upon species that once were free to flourish and bloom in their own lands, their own waters, in nature’s own terms. It seemed unattainable in our infancy, scribbling on the walls of dank caverns lit by flames of our own making. But we had a rather inconspicuous kind of weaponry in our arsenal, embedded within our throats, our lungs, and our remarkable brains. This is our innate ability to communicate and coordinate with one another in creative and innovative ways, of which other forms of known life are not capable of. And like all things in the natural world, this has evolved beyond comprehension, in a period of tens of thousands of years. Now we are in the digital age, and complex communication is accessible with but a tap of our fingers. I will not elaborate on how we have gotten here, for countless others have already done so more concisely than I shall ever be able to. Instead, I shall argue that it is your obligation as a human being to take advantage of the recent advancements in communication as your forefathers have taken advantage of theirs.

Before I move on, I must first clarify two crucial things. Communication is the act of transmitting information from one entity to another, while media is the means through which communication happens. Therefore. to communicate effectively, we must be literate in all forms of media, digital or physical or otherwise. By being media literate, we are essentially bestowing upon ourselves the ability to decide for ourselves and influence others, whether or not we realize it. It gives even the most powerless individuals the opportunity to be heard and be visible.

In Medieval Europe, media was held beneath the forceful clutch of the Catholic Church, and by extension, the many states that it controlled. Most of the sacred texts were written in Latin, which at the time only nobles and clergymen could understand. The peasantry had little incentive to question any of the sermons that were being fed to them, and thus, the power of the Church remained unopposed. It wasn’t until the advent of the printing press in the Holy Roman Empire at around 1440 that the Bible became available in languages that the common people of Europe could understand and analyze. This led to the Protestant reformation, in which Christianity in the west was split into several different denominations, each with their own interpretations of the sacred texts that differed from that of the Roman Catholic Church. The course of history had shifted, all because of a single invention.

Yet to say that advancement in media technology brought only good would be naive and rather hasty, as a historian might tell you. During the hegemony of the Third Reich, which lasted from the collapse of the Weimar Republic in 1933, and until their final defeat at the hands of the Allied Forces in 1945, the latest advancements in mass media, such as the television and the radio, were utilized by a totalitarian regime to brainwash and entire generation into supporting the exterminations of around 18 million so-called undesirables, most notably the Jews, the Gypsies, the Poles, the Serbs, and people with disabilities. The German people were demoralized, their pride wounded, in the aftermath of the first World War. The Nazis found the perfect scapegoat, which they then propagated to the public using whatever form of media they could get their hands on, may it be paintings, sculpture, film, music, or radio. Media is like fire. It sustains us with its warmth and its light, but it is also a volatile substance, capable of turning into cinder and ash everything within its path.

Media literacy does not merely benefit an individual but society as a whole. It could empower oppressed individuals to form their own views and be heard, though it could also be used to further the nefarious agendas of genocidal regimes. As a member of human society, you are obligated to take part in this, to bear the torch so never again can the fire be used for death and destruction.

The Meaning of Life

From the day we are born, we are, in one way or another, walking towards death. In such a precarious existence, it is the only thing we can be certain of. This is why, in my opinion, it is of utmost importance that we make the most of our lives in whatever way we can. Be what you want to be, not what someone else wants you to be. Do not do anything you’d only regret and rue yourself for later on. You never know when La Muerte shall stick her ugly fingers into your perfect little world and snuff it out. Live every day like it’s your last.

Having suffered through depression time and time again, I became painfully aware of my own mortality, as if I was always on the verge of death. Each time was worse than the last, and I became a bitter nihilist. I had honestly believed that life was meaningless, that there was no light at the end of this dark and endless tunnel. This was good for me as an artist but ultimately a destructive force as far as my health and my relationships were concerned. I developed my own style of writing fiction and poetry, which often utilizes unreliable narration, dark humor, and dramatic irony to paint a unique picture (or at least I try to) of society and the human psyche. Of course, my writing gave me a sense of purpose in this world. I am now less of a nihilist and more of an existentialist. Now I believe that the meaning of life is whatever it is you deem it to be. In Albert Camus’ words, the meaning of life is whatever you’re doing that prevents you from killing yourself.

Now that you know the why behind my personal opinions, we must now ask ourselves, what counts as a life well-lived? Is it the legacy you left behind? How happy you were while you lived? I could safely assume you already have a preconceived answer in your head. We all do. For instance, I could argue that Sylvia Plath lived well in spite of how it all ended for her, due to what she had accomplished whilst she was still alive. But would she agree with me? Probably not. The same can be said for Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf, whom despite being some of the most influential writers of the 20th century, tragically ended their own lives. The truth is, I am biased. Mine was never what you would call a blissful life; I was always more concerned with what I could leave behind rather than what could actually make me happy in this life. I could very well regret that.

Now that you have your own notion as to what makes a life well-lived, you must now ask yourself our final question—what is the purpose of our lives? Of course, purpose and meaning are not the same thing. At least not in the context of our philosophical exercise. Is it determined by some kind of supernatural force? A god or gods? The universe itself? Or do we get to decide the purpose of our own lives? Maybe in the grand scheme of things, our lives are ultimately without a predetermined purpose, just like how we get to assign our own meaning to our lives. Our miniscule lives are nothing when you factor in the vastness of our cosmos; our planet, as unique and colorful it might be, is just a pale blue dot. But who am I to say that? Perhaps our lives do have purpose, just as I have established earlier that it has purpose. Yet whatever it may be, we were never meant to know.

Now, you might ask me, if there is no definite answer to any of these questions, then what is the point of asking them? Is it merely to cause us existential dread? I wouldn’t say so. You see, the only way to live a fulfilling life is to know what you live for and why. By failing to ascribe meaning to our own lives, we are dooming ourselves to an existence of nothing but dubiety. So now I shall ask you again, what is the meaning of life?

The Fate We All Share

There is only one thing in this world I am sure of, and that is, we are all going to die. Yes, it’s true. Everything that exists or has ever existed⁠—you and me, everyone you know and love, the Earth itself, and even the sun that facilitates all known life⁠—will inevitably perish at some point in the future. Nothing is ever permanent in this world but death. If you think that’s depressing or even frightening, you’re not alone. In most societies, death means loss, mourning, grief, and tragedy. Rarely is it ever celebrated.

But what is death? As an atheist, I am inclined to define it merely as the permanent cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living organism, as Wikipedia had done. Whether or not there is life after death is beyond any known human knowledge so I will prefer not to get into such a pointless debate. Not unless you’re a farer from the distant future, in which case, I’d be more than happy to listen to what you have to say.

Everyone has heard of or has seen the face of death at least once in their lives. For many people, they come home from work or from school one day only to find a nimiety of distant relatives in their living room, all frowning, looking lachrymose and dejected. Then finally they break the news, “Your grandma/grandpa just passed away.” That was how it happened to me when I was five or six years old, the first time I encountered death. But others have it worse. Mayhaps their car crashes violently against another vehicle (let’s say it’s a ten-wheeler truck, for example), leaving them in a coma, a fine and fragile thread keeping life and death apart from one another. Death is an ubiquitous part of life, as ironic as that might sound.

But what can be done about it? Quite frankly, nothing. You may try to delay the inevitable. But that’s it. Though there is a way we could make the most of what little time is given to us. Live each day like it’s your last. We will never truly know when death will come knocking on our door. So see as much of the world as you can (to the best of your capacity, of course). Fall in love, marry your soulmate, and never let her go.

There is what Jean-Paul Sartre terms authenticity. He once famously stated that existence proceeds essence. Well, authenticity is simply the adherence to that notion. We must all take responsibility for our life, choices, and actions; that we should not be affected by what others think of ourselves. Sartre also stressed that it is important for us to form independently our own belief system and not to blindly abide by what society has been hammering unto us all our lives. To live authentically, according to Jean-Paul Sartre, is the only way to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. Do not give in to bad faith.

This begs the question, does it even pay off? What happens to us when we die? Well, I might not be the most qualified person to answer that. I’ve never died before, much less come back from it. Yet as far as the scientific evidence goes, it’s quite likely to be eternal oblivion. It’s bleak, I know. No wonder people turn to religion. The idea of a paradise in the clouds where you reunite with your dead loved ones, and where everyone shall live blissfully ever after ’til the end of days is quite attractive, I must admit. Yet the truth is almost always never convenient. So let me tell you what really happens when you die.

Once your dead, your cells will slowly perish and be broken down by the bacteria within your body. Your cadaver will begin to smell like the rotting flesh that it is, emitting such gases as methane and hydrogen sulfide. Before long, insects and other animals will move in, throwing the wildest party that no one would call the cops on. Those flies and maggots you used to step on as a child? They’d feast on you, leaving only your skeleton, osseous and naked, a mere shell of the breathing, thinking entity you once were.

But don’t feel too bad about all this.

You will still live⁠—in the memories of those who remember you, who adamantly cherishes every moment they’ve ever spent with you. I know that doesn’t make your imminent demise any more comforting, but if there is a heaven, you’d be glad for it.