The pressure to be political: societal expectations upon young millennial’s for informed & unique opinions in the age of selfies and standardised statistics.
Step into any coffee shop around the nation and you’ll see one consistent element: 20-somethings sipping on their lattes and taking selfies. Whether they’re working on their blog, writing the next trending tweet or talking to each other through their phones in lieu of face-to-face, millennials can come off as self-absorbed, opinionated and all-knowing. I would know, I am one myself. Just like the rest, usually feeling mature for their/my age, smart and more interesting than those around them/me yet armed with little to no information to back it up… Save for the rare selfie with an opaque inspirational quote scrawled along the sunset in the background. In fact, it is this disguise we wear that sways politicians and their campaign managers into bundling millennials into one category; “reach them through social media with a trending headline and we’re golden.” Perhaps it’s this disguise that almost works against us. We are either assumed to know nothing and are seemingly unimportant or are judged to know more than we do considering our access to information in milliseconds. But is it this rush to feel superior – and in turn not admit lack of knowledge – that leads us millennials to wax poetic about what we should do and what we shouldn’t do all the while missing out on what we CAN do to be effective members in the very society we wish to change? We can’t continue to speak our truth only to put it on mute when we sit out from voting. Instead of feeling the pressure to be political, speak political and make decisions based on a headline or two, alleviate the pressure by using your phone for research to make a difference in the very realm we seek to change.
To add to the coagulated string of events and actions among young adults, it turns out that we don’t think others are informed enough to vote either. The Huffington Post found that millennials think others shouldn’t vote; “Some young Americans who think only the well-informed should vote may count themselves among that group, of course, even if they have other reasons not to cast a ballot.” Are we projecting our own truth onto other people? A Pew Research poll of registered voters of all ages who didn’t vote in the latest midterm found that 67% cited scheduling conflicts, with 20% saying they didn’t like the candidates or didn’t know or care enough.” Is it apathy? Is it the need to feel a part of? Or is it packaging millennials into a standardized-over-simplified-somewhat-chastising statistic with no give for mistakes in the pressure to be informed, make unique opinions and be political? Consider that in a comparison of European voters to American voters, The Economist found that young people (who tend to be more cosmopolitan, liberal and hopeful than their elders) tend to be switched off by the negativity and cynicism of election campaigns targeting the unhappy old. There seems to be a snag in our mutual communication and understanding of each other.
What happened along the way? When did millennials get pigeon-holed into this image? Are we to believe it’s solely our own doing? While a certain amount of our reality can be to blame, it’s not inherently our fault. The “powers that be” seem to oversimplify us millennials into a nearly “hipster” image; one that cares about everything and nothing all at the same time. We are swayed by tweets, news clips and biased channels for opinions that are shared to us by our peers and the media – a slew of outlets not available to previous generations. We then perpetuate certain stereotypes and methodologies out of habit but what are we to do when so much information is thrown at us from every angle and every screen? Do we parrot off sound bytes from documentaries, specials and late night shows as fact right away? Do we give ourselves a chance to form our own opinions and find issues that are important to us? Or do we just believe it all and change our opinions to be in line with whatever bias we last heard? While it’s not always an absolute, we do, whether we know it or not, often make this type of behaviour our MO. All of these occurrences snowball into how the media reaches us and our understanding of the world.
The trending topics being used to reach millennials doesn’t seem to be working though. In the Harvard poll, Political Views Related to the Midterms and 2016, it seems that millennials aren’t being swayed to vote. “Currently, less than one-in-four (23%) young Americans under the age of 30 say that they will “definitely be voting,” in the upcoming midterm elections for Congress, a sharp decrease of 11 percentage points since the Fall.” The decision to not vote is based on the two-fold nature of meaningful action and taking action at all — do we vote on something we don’t know or vote on something we think we know?
Instead of just getting into line, you can stand up against the stereotype and form or solidify your own goals. A huge ‘well duh”, I know, but writing some of this stuff out, pen to paper, you’d be surprised by what comes up for you. You can get started by creating a quick pro and con worksheet on the basic topics of this election e.g. prolife, marriage equality, the economy, immigration etc. Instead of relying on tweets, ads, and a handful of sites or channels, find unbiased opinions by reading from multiple sources on the same topic. That way, you get all the slants on each topic and can form your own. The test comes when you’re in a conversation — know how to have a conversation about your topic that is unheated and concise. If it gets intense and you’re about to break your beer bottle over your bar buddy’s head, back off and just appreciate their view points. Take it as a lesson and see if there’s anything in their rant (it’s always a rant when it’s not us doing the monologue!) that you can agree with or at least understand. Always be respectful and don’t make it personal… that’s a surefire way to get your ass verbally beat. But keep with it; follow the topics as the election moves forward. It may not seem like much but your educated opinions will help beat the stereotype of being a “screen-obsessed know-it-all,” by actually knowing what you’re talking about instead of being a mockingbird that voices the opinions of others. This is when ideas become convoluted.
It’s pretty simple. It will take you less than 40 minutes to get some clarity on the topics and your stance, which is way easier than trying to follow a conversation and suffering that humiliating moment when something you say gives your ignorance away! Don’t perpetuate the image of the selfie-obsessed millennial. Get away from being a statistic (be discerning about your posts and sound bytes) and look towards your peers who actually care to get away from the droll image of a millennial and into the well-versed informative adult you can be. And after all that, ironically, it’s when you’re informed that social media CAN serve as a tool for getting the latest headlines. However you get your information, knowledge is power and selfies don’t say 1,000 words.