Internet Natives: They Know More than They - or You -Think

By 1stFive Archives
Cover image for  article: Internet Natives: They Know More than They - or You -Think

Chapter 9 of Jack Myers' book Hooked Up: A New Generation's Surprising Take on Sex, Politics and Saving the World. It was published in June 2012 and is winner of the International Book Award for Youth Issues and finalist for the USA Book Award for Pop Culture. Hooked Up focuses on "Internet Pioneers," the first generation to grow up with the Internet, born 1991-95 and emerging as the most important generation of this century

"IDK. I Don't Know." It's a catch-all phrase, but ask an Internet Pioneer a question and his or her response is typically preceded by a disconnected or even semi-perturbed, "I don't know…" followed by a reasonably thoughtful response. Try it. Ask an 18- to 22-year-old questions about politics, issues, their future, their friends and there's a high probability his or her answers will be interspersed with "I don't know." The short-form text version is the popular IDK.

It's not just a verbal habit like "you know". Internet Pioneers are plagued by uncertainty about the validity of their opinions, yet most are very clear about where they stand. Ask them to make a decision and they're as likely to say "whatever" as to offer a choice, even when they have a preference. They prefer to avoid conflict and are wary about how their opinions will be received. They are wary of the polarized hostility they observe in the political climate so they preface their opinions with a declaratory IDK.

In fact, most have pretty well-informed points of view about a wide-ranging spectrum of issues and reasonably clear perspectives on their future plans. They may disagree with each other, but they are focused, aware, engaged and active. They are also tolerant of their peers with whom they disagree and are willing to listen to and consider opposing opinions. They're confused and offended by those who are unwilling to consider opposing views.

Internet Pioneers' Political Persuasion

Internet Pioneers have been impacted not only by the Internet but by growing up completely within a heavily charged and often negative political environment. They spent most of their early years during the presidency of William Jefferson Clinton and their teen years under President George W. Bush. For them, the presidency carries with it less gravitas as a result of the barrage of political attacks that marked both presidencies and that has been intensified during the terms of President Barack Obama. While presidents have always been the target of political dogma and hostility, the extraordinary attacks that now dominate the political landscape have turned off Internet Pioneers. Similarly, they have low tolerance for the polarizing social issues and economic policies that have dominated political debate and discourse throughout their young lives.

Half of the 18- and 19-year-olds in our survey have yet to determine their political persuasion, unable to define themselves as progressive/liberal, moderate, conservative or libertarian. One-third of the older 20- and 21-year-old Internet Pioneers remain unfocused in their political affiliation, but are likely to take a more moderate stance. Among those who declared a political position, 73 percent identify themselves as progressive or moderate, compared to 27 percent who say they are politically conservative. Less than 1 percent of both groups say they are Libertarian, suggesting that the apparent wave of support for Ron and Rand Paul will be short-lived.

A Formidable Voting Bloc

Internet Pioneers intend to participate in the political process. Only 10 percent say they do not plan to vote in the next presidential election, with an additional 16 percent uncertain. Among the Asian Internet Pioneer population, 18 percent say they will not vote and 14 percent of Blacks/African Americans do not intend to vote. Compared to the high percentages of the general population who do not vote and acknowledge they do not plan to vote in the future, Internet Pioneers hold the promise of being the most politically active generation in nearly five decades, yet they are more unlikely to aggressively campaign for their candidates or for their positions. For this we have to thank lobbyists, political attack dogs, the 24-hour news cycle that rewards and champions controversy over discourse, liars in the news media and in public office, a politicized court system, and the polarization and partisanship that accompanies discussion of almost every issue that comes before Congress.

The debates and conflicts that have dominated the politics of the past couple of decades have created some confusion and uncertainty among Internet Pioneers, creating a large base of young voters who are still listening to both sides on key issues such as health care without having formed a clear opinion of their own. But on most issues, only a small minority of Internet Pioneers has yet to form an opinion.

Confusion and Uncertainty of Internet Natives
 % Who Don't Know/ Not Sure/No Opinion
Health care coverage41%
Optimism/pessimism about future of generation37%
Income taxes29%
Continued global dominance of U.S. economy26%
Value of corporations to society24%
Continued U.S. foreign military commitment23%
Economic conditions in next four years20%
I plan to vote in the presidential election16%
Future impact of generation/age group16%
Plan to maintain connections with high school friends15%
Legalization of medical marijuana15%
I plan to vote in future electrons13%
Choice vs. Right to Life12%
Second Amendment Right to Bear Arms12%
Plans after graduating from college10%
Environment/Climate change9%

For most issues, especially social issues that are polarizing society, Internet Pioneers have formed a clear and relatively cohesive voting bloc that will increasingly inform the politics of the nation.

In that context, and understanding that Internet Pioneers tend toward being more progressive and moderate than conservative, it's important to understand their positions on the issues that are likely to dominate the political debate for the next several years and that will define the nation and world in the 21st century.

Political Positions

Overall, Internet Pioneers' training from Nickelodeon [See Chapter 11] and their lifelong online immersion are likely to influence them to vote for those who connect most effectively on a one-to-one basis, who are honest and sincere in their opinions, are the least extreme, and who prove open and accepting of those with whom they don't agree.

If Internet Pioneers turn out to be a quiet but cohesive political force, as the statistics suggest they will, and if their influence extends beyond the size of their generation alone, which I believe it will, then they will have significant impact on the future of the nation on several important political fronts.

• There will continue to be polarization on most social and foreign policy issues, but the weight of the population will swing toward more progressive and moderate views.

• 73% of those who take an active position on foreign military. Intervention say we should get out of our current conflicts soon.

• Only 20% disapprove of same-sex marriage.

• 84% agree that women should have the right to terminate pregnancies in at least some instances, and 53% believe they should have the right in all instances if medically safe.

• Only 24% believe there should be no tax increases of any type.

• 59% believe the government should support health care for all people.

• 64% oppose changes to Medicare regulations that would delay their benefits to an older age

• 86% believe global climate change is real.

• 60% support the legalization of marijuana in some form.

• Only 44% approve of strict gun control enforcement.

• 49% believe the U.S. economy will worsen in the next four years.

• 52% believe the U.S. position in the global economy will deteriorate.

Internet Pioneers are most likely to support candidates for political office who advocate:

  • smaller government;
  • a strong but controlled military with a non-interventionist agenda;
  • reduction of the dominance of the military-industrial complex;
  • individual rights, including abortion, gay marriage, medical marijuana and limited gun control;
  • clearly defined economic policies that do not overly advantage the already wealthy.

They are not anti-corporation but definitely are wary of government, Wall Street, large institutions, and over-regulation.

They believe in individual rights but are less inclined to support active separation of states along politically-charged issues, believing that the nation is one and undivided, with liberty and justice for all.


Social Issues

Internet Pioneers are progressive on most social issues, actively opposed

to military intervention, balanced on gun control issues, and moderate but confused on economic issues. When asked about interracial marriage and same-sex partnerships, Internet Pioneers almost seemed shocked that these topics are still being debated. Penn State senior Allen Vickers referred to comedian Chris Rock's joke that "gay people got a right to be as miserable as everybody else." Ali Nelson, a 19-year-old student in Albuquerque, NM, responded "I don't think the government should even have a say in it."

Internet Pioneers look at LGBT relationships with a new level of respect. Internet Pioneers are overwhelmingly in favor of gay rights issues such as same-sex marriage, adoption and serving in the military. In 2011, overall support of gay marriage in the general population passed 50 percent for the first time. 85 percent of Internet Pioneers say they respect the right of individuals to enter into legally sanctioned same-sex marriages. They are also open to a number of other non-traditional family arrangements. At one time a taboo, interracial marriage now receives overwhelming support from young people. A 2011 GOOD Magazinesurvey found that 85 percent of the millennial population supported interracial marriages regardless of ethnicity. Support for interfaith marriages is also at an all-time high.


To "Occupy" or Not

We should not confuse the desire of Internet Pioneers to avoid conflict with an unwillingness to take and support a position or to vote in an election. As "Occupy Wall Street" crowds gathered around the country, a common question was, "Where are the college students? Where are the young activists?" The answer is simple. They were focused on their priorities, managing the complexities of their lives, working at their jobs, intent on their lives and responsibilities.

Overall, their politics conform to the underlying issues that brought protesters into the streets, but unlike their counterparts in the Middle East, the Internet Pioneers in the United States are active but not activists, political but not politically involved, engaged in issues but unwilling to actively protest for or against them.

While Internet Pioneers were not taking to the streets and parks, they contributed to the rapid expansion of the "Occupy" movement across the United States and to over 85 nations. College students spread the "Occupy" message on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Foursquare and a variety of other social networking and activist sites. Critics dismiss "Occupy Wall Street" as a disorganized group of disgruntled ruffians. Although there are certainly unorganized elements of "Occupy Wall Street," the movement's virtual platform is the epitome of organization. A variety of social media tools are all linked to, a one-stop shop where protesters and interested onlookers can learn about the movement's background, core beliefs and upcoming events. A number of other tools are also integrated into the website, including Tumblr pictures, events on, online mapping and all kinds of videos from YouTube and Facebook. Those who focus on the size of crowds in the streets fail to understand the power of crowd sourcing and social media to spread and sustain a message and movement.

"Occupy Wall Street" may have received press attention, but it is certainly not the only social justice movement that's meaningful to Internet Pioneers. Movements started by college students and recent graduates have been sprouting up all over the place. Several of these movements are aimed at changing the ways in which young people purchase and use consumer goods. Activists aim to draw attention to large companies that sell products made in sweatshops. Sweatshop labor has long been frowned on for its low wages and often physically harmful working conditions, but most consumers fail to realize that their purchasing habits are driving the demand for cheap products made in sweatshops and thus sustaining terrible treatment of workers.

Internet Pioneers understand the value of the Internet and the power of communications. Mark Twain said "Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel." Internet Pioneers are the first generation to grow up with the availability of online ink by the barrel, and they use it.

Penelope Trunk, founder of Gen Y social networking site, Brazen Careerist, says that today's college students are anything but apathetic. Generation Z (as Trunk dubs them) "will be so good at processing information that they will open doors we can only knock on today."

Chapter 10:Internet Natives: They Know More than They - or You -Think

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