The generation of current college students, on the cusp between Millennials and Generation Z, is in a unique position to redefine how they interacted with political discourse. Although access to technology and the instantaneous nature of digital communication has given college students the ability to learn about and shape the progress of United States politics like never before, it also spells trouble in the allowance for selective exposure.
On one hand, technology offers users the an ability to parse out truth and become as informed as possible, a luxury that previous generations never had. However, every kind of opinion is available through a single Google search. It is all too easy to follow news sources that portray stories in line with one’s own thinking, excluding differing points of view.
Duaa Eldeib of ProPublica Illinois sheds light on the process of fact-checking in journalism, in which accuracy is key. Eldeib’s article “Has the Internet Changed Fact-Checking? Well, it Depends” focuses on how much the concept of journalistic integrity has changed in recent decades. Just 30 years ago, reporters had to go through hard copy police records, budgetary reports or other newspapers. Today the modern knowledge hound needs only to do a quick online search.
“Reporters can access more information than was available in the past, and faster, too. We still have to make judgment calls on that information, though,” Eldeib wrote.
And therein lies the catch: as wonderful and quick as technology is, it has its downfalls, just like any other source of information. In order to sift through the reams of digital records, files and sources, the modern person has to have a much more discerning eye.
Christopher Walker’s interview with Visegrad Insight called “Internet influence on politics and media,” suggests caution when consuming technological media. Walker, Vice President for studies and analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy, reported that the change in media is affecting news outlets all over the world. “I think it is fair to say that the degree to which people are using social media to get news and information is growing just about everywhere,” Walker said. “We have underestimated the impact of saturation, fragmentation and manipulation of the information space […] The ever-growing capacity to customize information feeds echo chambers and information bubbles.”
Walker pointed out that despite people’s best intentions, bias is inevitable and everyone who interacts with internet media must tread lightly, lest become trapped in a cycle of only hearing what they want to hear.
In this rapidly changing political climate, this type of access is crucial to how young people see and interact with American discourse, and it will only continue to shape future generations. According to the American Family Survey, issued annually by Brigham Young University, 53 percent of parents with children in the household reported that overuse of technology was the most important issue facing teens. That percentage is higher than bullying, mental health and family breakdown, the next three contenders.
An NPR article called “Forget Screen Time Rules — Lean In To Parenting Your Wired Child” argues that not only should parents not limit teen’s screen time, but should actively encourage it. The interview of Jordan Shapiro, a professor at Temple University, sheds light on the philosophy and psychology of participating in technology consumption with children. “If you look at it historically — let’s say every hundred years, there’s these huge transitions that require giant adaptations so [the old ways] are still meaningful,” said Shapiro.
He has chosen to actively engage with his children in their interactions with technology and hopes that it will allow him to influence their critical thinking and political participation in an environment that is not only novel but ever-changing.
Technology is becoming ubiquitous. It’s inescapable. Every Willamette student is familiar with a wide variety of online resources: WISE, SAGE and the Hatfield Catalog have all become so finely integrated into the student culture that it’s unimaginable to function without them. As long as critical thinking and scientific approaches to learning prevail, technology will be the harbinger of knowledge and truth, rather than ignorance and intolerance.