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When we look at the media, we often don’t realize that this ever-present source of information has a powerful influence over us. Just as a fish doesn’t realize it lives in the water, we don’t realize we’re exposed to these influential messages. We don’t know a world without it, since we’ve been with it all our lives.

By and large, this has lead us to become passive in the way we consume media. We take it for granted, and this can be very dangerous. Advertisers and media creators know of our passive ways, and they prey on this deficiency, creating messages with subtle hints to buy products or believe a lifestyle or ideology.

To better understand the way media affects us, and how we can become active consumers of media, we must take a look at the core concepts behind media literacy. The principles are the same used by the Alliance for a Media Literate America.

* All media messages are “constructed.” Just as books use letters to make words, words to make sentences, sentences to make paragraphs, and paragraphs to tell us a story, media sources have their own set of rules to create their message.

* Each medium has different characteristics, strengths, and a unique "language" of construction. A photograph is constructed using a different process than a book. Each medium uses unique methods for constructing its messages.

* Media messages are produced for particular purposes. Every media message is meant to either sell you a product or service, or to convince you of a lifestyle or ideology.

* All media messages contain embedded values and points of view. The message creator has either consciously or subconsciously embedded their own values in the message.

* People use their individual skills, beliefs and experiences to construct their own meanings from media messages. Each person interprets media messages based on their own backgrounds and experiences, and so each person's interpretation will be different.

* Media and media messages can influence beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, and the democratic process. Although people are influenced by their friends, family, and community leaders as well as media, media influences all of those people as well.