How Young People Are Using Communication Technologies as Platforms and Pathways to Engagement: What the Research Tells Us

How Young People Are Using Communication Technologies as Platforms and Pathways to Engagement: What the Research Tells Us

Christopher Peter Latimer (State University of New York College at Cortland, USA) and J. Richard Kendrick (State University of New York College at Cortland, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-083-5.ch021
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This chapter is an assessment of what we know empirically about how communication technologies are being used by young people (typically defined as those between the ages of 18 and 29) as both platforms and pathways for civic and political engagement. An overview of the current research concerning the relationship between communication technologies and civic and political engagement is used as the basis for this investigation. Previous research fails to acknowledge the difference between individuals who are engaged only by using communication technologies (technology as a platform for participation) versus those who are engaged beyond the exclusive use of communication technologies (technology as a pathway for participation). This distinction will better enable government officials, agencies, and practitioners to develop comprehensive strategies for engaging young people based on what we know about how technology is being utilized. The analysis reveals that technology can serve as both a platform and pathway for political engagement. Whether the same is true for civic engagement is unclear. The authors also provide recommendations to policy and decision makers based on the results of their analysis of the extant literature.
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There is general agreement that the unprecedented growth in society’s use of communication technologies has the potential to transform our civic and political existence (Polat, 2005; Ward, Gibson and Lusoli, 2003), but few researchers agree about the nature of this change (Davis, 2005; Katz and Rice, 2002; Norris, 2001). One group believes that communication technologies have a positive impact on civic engagement (Lin, Cook, and Burt, 2001; Gibson, Howard, and Ward, 2000; Hampton and Wellman, 2001, 2003) and political engagement (Barber, 2001; Hagen and Mayer, 2000; Krueger, 2002; Vettehen, Hagemann and Van Snippenburg, 2004). This theory is based on technology lowering the costs of communication, association, and participation; and the potential of “wired” communities to strengthen civil society (Franzen, 2000; Howard, Rainie and Jones, 2001) and mobilize inactive populations (Barber, 2001; Krueger, 2002; Weber, Loumakis and Bergman, 2003). One of the strongest arguments to support this position focuses on the potential of these communication technologies to increase young people’s levels of civic and political engagement (Delli Carpini, 2000). This demographic group has been found to be the most likely of all age groups to use such technologies (Kaiser, 2010; Xenos and Foot, 2008).

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