Thursday, 17 September 2009

Let's Juxtapose a Minute

Andrew Potter has been tilting against the "Youth these days are disengaged from politics more than ever" meme.

Earlier this month, Adam tackled the concept of voter alienation.

Let me ask, are youth really that more disengaged nowadays than they were in decades past?

The more I ponder it, the more I think its the opposite. When I argued in response to Adam's post (above) that there are in fact genuinely apathetic voters, I was basing my arguments on my experiences with my peer groups. And it struck me, all of those people are 30someting or older.

For my and older generations, to follow politics meant reading newspapers, watching the news or listening to radio call-in shows. Generally speaking, as kids or teens, we didn't do any of those things. We were only interested in the overall entertainment value (same as kids of every generation, see AP's arguments). Its a natural extension that as we grew older, many of us would continue to not care. The only reason I'm interested and follow politics is because my parents were politically involved, my home life gradually exposed me to politics. But if my parents had been disinterested, chances are I would be too.

For us pre-internet stone-age fogies, political engagement took effort. It was something you had to go and find. Newspapers weren't free (and maybe not easily delivered if you were rural), hell cable TV wasn't even available for many of us, we had to make do with the 4 channels that made it over the antennae. The radio stations set on our presets may never even have read the news at the top of the hour.

Now, info is available at the click of a button. Most computers and portable devices have a default homepage in their web browser where the top news stories are there whether you want them or not. You don't have to actively look for information anymore, its pretty much thrown at you. Even if you go online seeking entertainment, top stories still get in your way, it takes conscious effort to ignore them.

Since my age group is largely apathetic about politics, I'm now involved in the blogging experience. Out here is where I can find others willing to talk the issues du jour. And as I'm constantly learning, most of you are younger than me.

Granted, the Internet allows like minds to find each other, regardless of culture, age or location. So my aggregated list of interesting blogs is not a random filter of online participation. It in no way can be construed as a random sample. Whereas my real life interactions with friends, co-workers and neighbors is more of a random subset of the population, and therefore more likely to representative of public opinion. Its only defining characteristic is generational.

But here's my theory. The Internet (and other interactive technologies) are enabling today's younger generations to be involved/interested/aware of the issues than us older fogies were. And as such, because it is easier to be informed, the youth of today are more engaged than we were. It does not mean the youth of today vote, they may in fact, be alienated from the system because they are more informed about it. Many of my generation are alienated from the system because they never cared to learn about it at all. That's a pretty important distinction.

What say you young 'uns. Is there something to this? Or am I just a crazy old man?


ADHR said...

I think you're right. I tilt towards the younger end of your age bracket -- IIRC, you're cresting near the end of the 30's, I'm just in my 30's -- but I also teach 18/19 year-olds. They care. They really do. (Most of 'em, that is.) But the disgust in the political process is almost palpable. Which, again, is why I think alienation is maybe more profitable than apathy -- someone who cares about political issues, but hates the process by which these issues can effectively be affected, is pretty much a textbook case of alienation.

Catelli said...

On that I agree.

So maybe there's hope for our future after all eh?

ADHR said...

How so? Wanting to engage but disconnecting from the means to engage should lead to a lot of frustrated people, a smaller and smaller group actually controlling things, and a fragmenting of civil society. I don't see that as hopeful....

Catelli said...

Glass half full or half empty?

I see the engagement of youth at an early stage a good sign. Eventually these youth are going to express their desire for involvement in some method. Whether airing their views on blogs and adding to the discussion, finding alternative means to influence power or by running for government. Alienated but still interested is better than completely apathetic.

The ones that eventually get elected will hopefully bring their sense of "wrongness" in the system with them, making them more receptive to change. It'll be a gradual process, 2 or 3 decades I'd imagine. Others will go into NGOs and other social organizations that effect direct results with citizens at home and abroad.

I hold on to the sense that Canadians as a whole throughout history will work towards a common goal for the betterment of all. We stumble and lurch about as we are after all human, with all that entails, but we continue to move forward.