My first hours of observations focused on the "following the news" component of civic engagement on the teen-oriented website Student.com. The first thread I observed was a series of comments posted to the question, "Why do we let the media influence our [lives]?" This question received 134 replies in a single day (119 which were readable), which I've sorted into rough categories (to possibly be refined later):
We need information: 6 replies
We can't escape/it's omnipresent: 17 replies
I don't know: 18 replies
It doesn't influence me: 21 replies
We're stupid lemmings/human nature is faulty: 40 replies
Other reason: 17 replies
Not a single commentator asked what the questioner meant by "media" or by "influence." They discussed "the media" without making any distinctions between substantial news reporting and entertainment shows and advertising. One lone comment equated "the media" with "the latest trend" while another noted that "most [people] can't identify a valid source," but everyone else lumped it all together into one category, and roughly 80 out of 119 (67%) judged this mysterious "media" negatively.
The teenage and emerging adult years are regarded in the U.S. as a time to find one's identity, and my literature review discusses the Internet as a way for youth to experiment with elements of identity or "persona." If the majority of youth believe that the purpose of "the media" is to dictate what us "lemmings" think, this would explain why teens detest and even avoid public media venues altogether and instead prefer individulized venues--that is, sites and shows and gadgets that they can customize to block out the teeming masses of audio-visual "junk mail," so to speak. The result so far seems to be that not only are they building a sense of self through their technology persona, they are also blocking out state, national, and world events. Although, as one commentator claimed, it may all be part of a bigger plan:
"BECAUSE IT'S ONE OF THE DEVIL'S TOOL[S] TO KEEP US INFORMED ABOUT THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOOD AND EVIL!"