The current trend of active youth engagement with new technologies and social media has invited research that investigates how e-engagement can be used to generate expanded youth participation in political and civic causes. Young Americans are disconnected with civic life to such a degree that the participation gap between the old and young is the widest it has ever been. However, a new research report by University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) faculty argues that the communicative power of technology is seen to provide a solution to the crisis of youth disengagement and can help create a “sustainable community” in which the political voice of the young is integrated within the larger civic sphere.
Research in “Becoming Citizens: Youth e-engagement in civic and public policy” by Kheir Al-Kodmany, Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Policy in the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at UIC, reveals that the use of the Internet for political-based information and participation is positively related to civic engagement and that, when combined with traditional forms of politics, the Internet and other technology can re-engage youth in political and civic issues. This means that young Americans are not ignorant of political issues and are using electronic tools like Web sites, social networking sites, and text messaging to create a cyber sphere of political engagement in which information is spread. The report’s investigation of youth organizations that use technologies and social media to communicate with youth found that when new forms of e-engagement merge with traditional means of political and civic participation (such as face-to-face communication), young Americans are more motivated to become actively involved in political issues. Further, the use of technology (such as this study’s use of Geographic Information Systems [GIS]) engage youth in real world issues that encourage problem solving and help them lend their distinct voices and opinions to the political arena.
Despite this promising trend, there remains a technology gap in which low-income and minority youth have limited digital access and therefore might not be affected by these innovative efforts for civic engagement. Thus, it proves crucial that digital efforts to involve youth integrate traditional methods of participation so as to not exclude minorities and give voice only to the privileged.
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