A recent New York Times op-ed sparked some controversy by suggesting that attempts by adults to use Facebook and similar social networking sites to nudge young people toward civic and political pursuits were misguided. Why? Because Facebook, Alice Mathias writes in "The Fakebook Generation," is a form of entertainment and shouldn't be taken seriously. And contrary to popular belief, she adds, these kinds of sites aren't necessarily about building networks as much as they are about escaping to another reality--one that's user-generated.
Some have suggested another reason these attempts may fail: Adults who use social networking venues to encourage more youth volunteering or other civic activities, well-intentioned as they are, may have forgotten what it's like to be young. And when you're interacting everyday with extremely civic-minded people, both young and old, it's easy to forget that not everyone's as engrossed in "doing good" as are those who've made it their life's work. The reality is that most people just aren't as into it. And others may not want something that they see as enjoyable and fun turned into something that's "good for them." Further, they may see those of us preaching about civic engagement as prissy "do-gooders"--the kind of kids, as one friend recently commented, "who were running for Student Council president or analyzing election returns in the womb." You know, the "nerds" who grew up and continued to do what they did in high school. And who wants to be a nerd? (Yet another painful example of how high school does permeate the rest of life--unfortunately).
This isn't easy to hear because it diminishes the dedication and passion of those working to promote and increase civic engagement as something that's tangential or irrelevant. But it's important to turn the tables once in awhile and see these efforts as others may seem them--and in ways that may not sit comfortably with our own images of ourselves. Otherwise, we risk becoming smug and self-righteous in admonishing people to "get involved." After all, if we're being seen as a "bunch of nerdy do-gooders" who've forgotten what it's like to be young, can we expect anyone but the younger version of ourselves--a very small percentage of the population--to participate? Something to keep in mind when talking about, doing, and encouraging civic engagement more broadly.
Monday, October 8, 2007
Posted by cingib at 2:56 PM