A particularly thoughful e-mail on social media and young Evangelicals:
On your blog you asked for input on where Evangelicals and devout Catholics are headed regarding politics. I may have a unique angle to bring to the discussion. I begin by answering your question with a question:
How much are today’s young people learning from the proven Western traditions rooted in Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas, versus from their friends and present influencers?
This leads to a key insight that many political commentators will overlook: Evangelicals and devout Catholics are headed towards wider generation gaps between younger and older members, which presents political risks and opportunities.
Your book Blog shows how much you understand the fundamentals. The lines of popular cultural engagement are being redrawn, because the rise of new media has fundamentally changed the way people process information at a cognitive level.
I argue that the place to focus our attention is on THE HANDOFF. This is the process taking place where authority, influence, and position are being passed from Baby Boomers to Generation X, and then to Millenials. So much can be said about this, and I plan to do so in the coming weeks on my blog: www.adeolumen.com.
The bottom line is that seeing THE HANDOFF now and responding accordingly can be game-changing. I do my best to briefly explain below.
Consider how much Obama engaged young audiences in this election through new media, and how much he will continue to do this. Today’s GOP could die out if it mainly focuses on where most of the money is today (the older generations), rather than where the influence will be tomorrow (as a result of THE HANDOFF).
I have been researching electronic media and intergenerational communication for 10 years, and there really are some broad and deep implications here. One finer point worth mentioning is that print-based communication-which is primarily how the historical works and insights of all religious thought have been preserved-is being displaced as authoritative in society by interactive, and increasingly, peer-based communication.
As the influence of new media increases, the influence of the proven ideas of the past stand to decrease. Who benefits from this, and who does not?
To be successful moving forward, the GOP must leverage communication strategies that bring forward the best of historic thought and translate it into twitter-friendly and blog post-ready bites. The Democrats face less generational risk, because their views are not so rooted in our deep traditions.
Here’s what happens on the individual’s cognitive level: The volume and variety of content available via new media will tend to overload the hardened adult brain, inclining one to the accustomed information sources and ways of thinking. The earlier one is exposed to new media, the more one’s brain will seamlessly incorporate the content, methods, and tools of communication into one’s natural language experience.
So, the older generation’s views will not be shaped as much by new media. Traditions are not at risk in their case. But younger generations will need to be shown how our proven traditions deliver sustainable solutions to today’s problems. Also, they will need to see how conservatism handles the very good questions raised by thoughtful liberals like E.J. Dionne whose focus on solidarity against unjust social structures will strongly influence younger minds towards collectivism (good), but could also leave them vulnerable towards socialism and statism.
I have offered some thoughts on this from in an essay entitled “The Medium is the Mass Sage” (download PDF), but more than any thinking, it will take coordinated action led by people like you who understand both tradition and new media to move things in a new direction.
The good news is that there is at least as much opportunity ahead as there is risk. By leading a broad dialogue on the imminent “passing of the torch” from the Boomers in various roles in American society, this generational transfer framework provides a new comprehensive lens for media coverage. This can expose and then brush away many of the old secularist biases.
Most young Evangelicals I know are tired of ideological back-and-forth in politics. I think most Americans feel this way. Yet, the media has a vested interest in ideological conflict. Americans don’t. So let’s expose that! People I know want a common ground from which to agree and debate. They want civility and pluralism in the public square, not today’s subtle but dogmatic and anti-religious secularism.
Furthermore, today’s swing voters are the many non-ideological people on the right and left (the center-right and center-left). Like Abdul the a cabbie I met yesterday. He came here from Egypt 25 years ago, and he told me he loves that America changes its leadership through elections, because that gives him hope that as he works for his kids’ futures, our system will enable them to lead richer lives. He isn’t wealthy, but in America his work and parenting has great meaning. He is thinking in terms of his own HANDOFF. What parent isn’t?
Americans want a political system that reflects their love for their children. They want to transfer something vetted and valuable to their children. The media is employed by advertisers who are planning now how to get those children wired to buy from them as early and as long as possible.
All this combines past, present, and future. A (new) new media transformation can establish a new center coalition by translating the proven ideas and traditions of the past into winning solutions for present social issues with a focus primarily on a future outcome: “what is best for the next generation.”
At least, that’s what I see.
Thanks again for writing In But Not Of, which inspired me to start my blog and, more importantly, to think carefully about these things. These ideas are still a work in progress, but I think there’s light up ahead…
A Deo Lumen