How about splitting media types up by their activity. Activity being the sense of “mental activity.” Mental activity is of course incredibly complicated and probably well beyond my expertise (or lack thereof) but, I will do it anyway because I can.
What I mean by mental activity is some sort of mental effort having to be put forth in the sense that the media doesn’t simply “invade” the senses. This is more of a spectrum, not hard divisions but, I suspect media types lend themselves more towards one end of the spectrum or the other.
The easiest pair for me to point at is TV and reading on physical pages. I will be using these as the Pinnacle/extreme ends of the spectrum. TV I consider one of the main examples of passive media whereas reading a physical page is the most active.
I consider TV passive because of the fact that essentially, one immobilizes themself and then just receives the data (images and audio primarily). One does not have to engage with that data, just receive it. Of course, one has the option to engage with the material and analyze it but it is not required; not to mention, let us be honest, a majority of the media taken in on TV does not require analysis of that sort.
Reading, specifically, from a physical page, is one of the more active mediums because, although one immobilizes themselves again (like all media that isn’t purely audio), they actually have to hold onto the material and move it around to an extent and mentally take in the text. One cannot “read” something without at least deciding to do the reading. I have yet to figure out how to “turn on” a physical book and just let it run, if there is a skill there that I failed to learn that others know it makes this point moot. (Or, if someone can multi-task while actually reading because I certainly cannot.)
Entirely useless aside, skip to stay on track:
A strange parallel to this comes from all that research on sitting and how it is dangerous. Although it is probably overblown to an extent, some of the movement systems I am interested in talk about sitting/squatting often. The sitting they refer to is just sitting on the floor and squatting as a resting position. Both of those are actually much more “active” than sitting in a chair. Sitting upright on the floor or squatting down, although a resting position, requires muscle engagement to maintain balance or not simply flop down into a laying position. Sitting in a normal chair, although not a requirement, lends itself to “passive” sitting, just laying back and letting the chair do all of the work of keeping oneself upright. It is certainly work well for me right now as I type this. Active sitting vs passive sitting, a new way to get healthier?
Anyway, active/passive media. TV would be at the passive end, photos would be slightly more center, audio further towards active and then reading would be the most “active.” Generally. This spectrum is of course not set in stone and one can be active while watching TV and fairly passive in reading a relatively simple/easy book.
This separation is not particularly interesting in and of itself but, what if this difference leads to a different sort of mind-set? By this I mean, something like the idea of “you are what you eat” and habits, if someone watches a lot of TV and habitually tends towards the passive sort of viewing, what sort of habit does this cultivate? It would seem that it cultivates a passive type of habit which then could bleed into the rest of their life and lead to becoming a more passive person overall. I sometimes wonder if that passivity is becoming more pronounced as more people spend more time watching TV passively and sitting passively.