Who is in the running for President of the United States? What is the name of the current Pope of the Roman Catholic Church? How is a Supreme Court Justice appointed?
Can you answer these questions?
What about these?
What is the name of the boy in the recent video that has taken social media by storm with his white vans? Can you name the title of Kanye West’s new album?
As a college student, I’ve been exposed to many young adults who are passionate about politics and current events, and simultaneously, I’ve come across many who say that they are uninterested in the topics.
News isn’t something that we should treat lightly, nor is it something that we should start paying attention to just when we are older. It’s as though we put off learning about what is going on in the world around us because we feel like it doesn’t apply to us – almost like we’re surrounded in a safe bubble where we are able to ignore the real world until we’re forced to face it on our own.
In a survey I conducted of almost 100 college students (94), 28% of students said they check news apps at least once a day, although 34% said the exact opposite – that they never check these kinds of sites.
It was clear that students were more familiar with viral social media posts and pop culture, as all but a handful were able to name both the ‘Damn Daniel’ video star as well as The Life of Pablo, Kanye West’s recently debuted album.
On the other end, 98% of the students accurately pointed out that Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump were all in the running for President, but just 35% were able to name everyone left remaining on the ballot.
Even further, 88% were able to recall the name of the Zika virus that has been popping up across the world. The interesting part is that all but three students were able to mention some variation of the name, with responses like “Zinka,” “Zitka,” and “something with a z in it.”
This intrigued me.
To me, it means that we are familiar with aspects of news, but we do not pursue topics further. Of course, this survey displays the responses from a small chunk of the college population, but I believe the sample’s results reveal a fair representation of students’ involvement with current affairs and their sense of understanding when it comes to the “big picture.” It shows that most of us have some idea of the events that unfold around us; however, a smaller portion go a bit further to pursue learning about those topics even more.
Sometimes we base our decisions off of a headline we see on Facebook or “retweet” on Twitter – but are we familiar with the article that it came from? In high school language arts classes, the emphasis on the importance of credible sources was a huge component – I know I felt as though it was over-emphasized every year, but I have quickly realized why my teachers would spend so much time teaching us about looking into articles, papers, and the like. They wanted to be sure that I would be able to pinpoint the validity of others’ statements before I was tempted to let them influence my opinion. We spent an extravagant amount of time learning the importance of this, yet now it is easier and more convenient to believe the virally shared headlines and videos rather than digging a little deeper to access the unbiased, accurate facts that make up the truth.
Of course, this entirely depends on each individual’s eagerness to become knowledgeable and keep current with what is going on. In high school it was far easier to keep up with current affairs, both domestic and international, through history, international relations, government, and even language arts classes because we were in a smaller environment and had a specific course load we had to complete. Sure, in college we have general education requirements that allow us to take these types of classes, but after a semester or two, the requirement is fulfilled, and we are left to our own devices. Afterwards, many of us don’t feel obligated to keep current because we know we won’t have to talk about these things publicly in order to get participation points in class or write a paper about a certain topic to get a good grade. Instead, we watch short video clips that relay snippets of information or rely on lighthearted articles to provide us with explanations of complex issues.
Many students had determined opinions about the lack of enthusiasm college students have when it comes to keeping up with current events. When asked if they believe their peers are socially conscious, one responder said, “Rather than being aware of Zika, for example, [college students] are more concerned with Vines and Buzzfeed lists. We are the future, so why have we stopped learning about the world around us? With every possible tool at our disposal with three clicks of a mouse, anything can be accessed yet we refuse to better ourselves.”
Older generations critique our lack of worldly knowledge by blaming our affinity for social media – I’m sure we’ve all gotten a line or two about how “you spend all your time on your stupid phone.” When really, social media is an invaluable resource for us to use precisely for becoming more culturally aware. Simply following official news sources (CNN, BBC, etc.) on Twitter, reading a shared article on Facebook, picking up a newspaper, or even turning on the news as background noise when doing homework are tiny steps we can take to take advantage of all of the facts that are quite literally at our fingertips.
As author John Naisbitt said, “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge.” I’m sure as we were growing up we had teachers and parents telling us that we have the potential to change the world. Although many people have begun doubting this and their influence in the scope of the world, I have maintained my faith. Of course, it may seem like a single individual is but a mere drop in the entire population, but collectively, we have the capability of becoming a generation that is more open-minded, globally conscious, and attentive in a spectrum larger than our own – and that can be the lasting mark we leave on the world.