Civic Engagement

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Civic Engagement and Political Awareness in the Youth of America
Change is inevitable and the popular one hit wonder, Video Killed the Radio Star, echoes a nostalgic desire to appreciate the past. The simple, yet meaningful verse, “we can’t rewind we’ve gone too far,” drives home the notion that the past is in the past, and one can only move forward. The song directly relates to technological changes in music at that time period. The lyrics give the impression radio will be replaced by visually stimulating music videos; however, the future has proved that radio has not been replaced; music has merely been enhanced by the continuous change of technological advancements. Political scientist and professor, Robert Putnam illustrates in his book, Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital, how one of the primary culprits in the decline of political awareness and civic engagement is the new media, for example, the Internet. Further studies suggest this is not necessarily the case. Video Killed the Radio Star mirrors the relentless argument of whether the mass media has hindered or assisted in political awareness and civic activity in adolescents and young adults. The radio made people famous, and even after music videos became popular, music was still streamed through a radio and continues to be used to this day. Studies have shown that civic engagement and political awareness has declined, at all age levels, and yet there is evidence that the mass media can have a positive effect on cultivating social capital, especially in the interest of young voters in America. The issue at hand is not mass media, but how mass media can be used as a means to stay informed on community issues and how it can create a sense of community. In the article, America’s Youth and Community Engagement: How Use of Mass Media is Related to Civic Activity and Political Awareness in 14- to 22-Year-Olds, the authors begin by providing troubling evidence, “Voter turnout in congressional and presidential elections has dropped since 1960… Americans are less involved in political activities ranging from signing petitions to attending rallies” (Pasek, Kenski, Romer, and Jamieson 115). Putnam compares the decline in civic engagement to the massive decline of bowling leagues; however, as bowling memberships are declining, the number of people bowling has increased. He explains the concept of a bonding capital and a bridging capital within the social capital as a whole. The theory of bonding and bridging can also be described in terms of strong ties and weak ties of networking. Professors Homero Gil de Zuniga and Sebastian Valenzuela explored Putnam’s research further in their article, The Mediating Path to a Stronger Citizenship: Online and Offline Networks, Weak Ties and Civic Engagement, finding it inclusive that bridging, or associating with weak ties provide one with a greater networking base, and therefore more information and resources. Bridging and weak ties are when an individual socializes with people who are different from themselves. Bonding and strong ties are individuals who are linked to each other on varying levels of intimacy; for example, one’s inner circle of friends and family. Putnam additionally points out that bonding and bridging strengthen each other. Because of the decline of bonding, there is a decline in bridging, which he links to the drop of organizational forms of capital due to the mass media. Like Putnam, authors Zuniga and Valenzuela agree that “larger networks foster civic participation so long as they provide access to weak ties,” yet they take into consideration that the internet is vast with diversity and is not “geographically bounded,” and therefore “argue that the online context should be more strongly associated with weak-tie communication than the offline context” (405). According to Zuniga and Valenzuela, this connection shows that internet based networks and weak ties will be more effective...
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