Past President Column: Living a Life of Meaning in a Mediated World

Mary Gregerson

Mary Gregerson, PhD

Clad in a golden skating skirt and glittery top, award-winning figure skater Gracie Gold flew past, shirring ice in our direction as she triple looped. An overhead jumbo-tron broadcast such skaters’ gliding images at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships where our family celebration spread out members in rink-side seats. Comparing notes afterwards, we all laughed that televised images overhead had continually mesmerized us rather than real-life skaters twirling and twizzling right here.  Mediated experience kept capturing us even when real-time, real-life excitement whirled close by.

For our grandparents the mediated world did not so consume. Our grandchildren’s only reality is a mediated world.  Anthropologist Michael Wesch (Mediated World, 2012) has noted, “Everywhere in the world is mediated now. It is just in different ways… The world is mediated at all levels.”

Media pervades modern living. Media today is what automobiles were yesteryear—a cultural hinge. There was a culture before autos, and a different culture after. There was a world before media, and now a different one after. Our choice is not whether to use media but whether to embrace “digital citizenship,” that is, the responsible and appropriate use of media.

Additionally, today each generation has its own personal challenge to create a life of meaning. Our American generation gap is wired, a digital divide. Media turns topsy-turvy generational relatedness.  Instead of elders generatively teaching lore and wisdom to youth, children teach and troubleshoot electronics for their elders. A sense of purpose correlates with higher life satisfaction, better mental and physical health, stronger self-esteem, and more resilience/bounce back (Rockind & Lahti, 2013). The importance of personal meaning within the context of global mediated images, both edifying and mortifying, accelerates the urgency for individuals directing purposeful, responsible living.  How can generational relations synchronize when media of their holding environment (Winnicott, 1960) differ so?  Let me count the ways our mediated world challenges each generation to live a life of meaning—here is how Division 46 can make a difference.

One, electronics hyper-accelerate living. Those media literate expect fast turnaround, irritatingly moving from foot-to-foot with delayed gratification.  So cogent has forward motion become that Finns already identify sisu as the energy and drive to overcome obstacles to goals (Rochind & Lahti, 2013).

Two, connectivity makes intimate what used to be remote. Canadian McLuhan’s “global village” (1964) becomes real as Wong (2012) cautions that international terrorism and global financial crises makes this the 21st “century of meaning.”

Three, auto-correct often auto-incorrects our “sense”tences into gobbledygook for writers and readers mystified by the machine override.

Four, pervasive personal devices broadcast day-to-day goings-on, so blurring the line between public and private that topsy-turvy hits again. Americans used to have to work hard to publicize matters. Now, we have to guard rigorously our privacy. Perspective warps as our normal imperfections of living broadcast round the world, gaining a surreal high profile and longevity to what used to be fleeting gaffs and momentary lapses in good behavior. Now, just such incidents “last forever,” as Julia Roberts’ character superstar Anna Scott bemoans when the London paparazzi uncover her love nest with local bookstore owner William Thacker, portrayed by Hugh Grant in Notting Hill (Michell, 1999).

Five, addiction to electronics reaches epic proportions in the Orient with rehabilitation clinics popping up everywhere (Byun et al., 2009). Psychologist Josh Davis’s book Two Awesome Hours addresses behavioral science strategies that restore work/life balance and immediacy to improve quality of life. Personal digital assistants (PDAs) are “white collar leashes,” keeping us attached to work everywhere and all the time.

Six, the line blurs between sounds piped in through electronics and our own thought processes. We literally do not hear ourselves think.

Seven, an existential crisis permeates work and home life for many (Erstad & Sefton-Green, 2013). What makes life worth living (Wong, 2012)?  Decades ago Frankl (1962) challenged each individual to “will” personal meaning to her/his living. How can we do that today wired for global participation? First, we need new constructs to capture new experiences, new relationships, and new outcomes to describe mediated ways of being.

May I propose two forms of an American neologism? One form means media assisted and the other means media interference.  May I suggest, “remodal” and “dismodal?” Remodal means mediated assisted experience, true to reality even though distal modality. Dismodal means mediated interference in discerning “reality” of a situation also removed in modality.  When we start naming constructs for such human experiences, they gain psychology “chops.” For instance, controversy still exists whether or not sisu is a valid psychology construct (Lahti, 2016).

There is so much work to do. Let’s get busy!


Byun, S., Ruffini, C., Mills, J. E., et al. (2009). Internet addiction: Metasynthesis of 1996–2006 quantitative research. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12, 203.

Davis, J. (2015). Two awesome hours. New York, NY: HarperOne.

Erstad, O., & Sefton-Green, J. (Eds.) (2013). Identity, community, and learning lives in the digital age. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Frankl, V., & Winslade, P. (1962). Man’s search for meaning. Lee Summit, MO: Beacon Press.

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media. Gingko Press. Berkely, CA: Gingko Press.

Michell, R. (1999). Notting Hill. Universal City, CA: Universal Pictures.

Mossberger, K., Tolbert, C. J., & McNeal, R. S. (2011, November 23). Digital citizenship – The Internet, society and participation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Rockind, C., & Lahti, E. (2013). WK 17 How to find the ‘why’ of life: A research-based process to uncover one’s purpose and find meaning in life. Third World Congress on Positive Psychology: Final Program, Los Angeles: International Positive Psychology Association, p. 108.

Winnicott, D. W. (1960). The theory of the parent-infant relationship. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 41,585-595.

Wong, P. T. P. (2012). Toward a dual-systems model of what makes life worth living. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed.). Personality and clinical psychology series (pp. 3-22). New York, NY:  Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

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