Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Media, Talk, and What People Know

There has been a growing body of scholarly work that examines our interpersonal networks as opposed to media consumption as reasons for what we think, how we act, and what we learn. Some of it I've covered before, such as the fact that our personal networks are more and more made up of people like ourselves. Thus we tend to think our viewpoints are shared by more people, when it turns we are merely getting a reflection of our own views.

Neat stuff. One study looks at young people and the role of talking to friends about politics versus using the media. The results are not surprising. Or maybe they are.

  1. Young people use the media to have something to talk about with friends, but they learn more from these conversations than they do from the media.
  2. Give young people a little information and they often want more, especially if that initial information is engaging (like a debate, so we'll find out if the infamous YouTube debates matter in later research. I'm guessing ... maybe).
  3. Conflicting information baffles young people. This is probably due in part to their lack of base information, so they struggle to deal with competing arguments. The study doesn't address this, but I can see a problem here. What if young people, who struggle with conflicting info, say the hell with it and search out a single source to tell them like it is? The result is a lack of exposure to competing arguments. Not good for them, not good for democracy.
  4. Young people love the Internet. This may have something to do with the findings in #3 above, because the Net is full of conflict, kinda like talk radio on acid.
  5. Over a third of young people report talking about politics on a daily basis. Wow! News organizations need to find a way to tap into this and sell the idea that they can provide young people with info for those conversations. This is an old uses and gratifications approach, for those of a PhDweeb persuasion.
  6. Young people see the mainstream news media as somewhat credible, but less than their friends. Not a good development.

Overall, this study and a host of others are looking at media, personal networks, and young people to help us understand what the opinion climate might look like in a few years. After reading a lot of this stuff, I'd like to say I'm hopeful. I'd like to say we'll be okay.

I''d like to, but I can't.

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