Part of the Volume on Civic Life Online: Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth.
Even as it is clear that participation in online communities is important for most young people, it is less clear how, or how often, this translates into public voice or political participation. In addition to learning how online networks and communities may be able to rekindle conventional political participation, scholars and practitioners must also learn how creative uses of digital technologies by young people are expanding the boundaries of politics and public issues. In what ways do protests in gaming communities, music file sharing, or fan petitioning of music companies constitute political behaviors? Do the communication skills and action patterns in these familiar areas of online life transfer to more familiar political realms such as voting and public protest? Perhaps most importantly, what can we learn about civic life online that might help young citizens make these transfers more effectively and more often? Learning about these issues is addressed in this chapter and in the larger volume from numerous standpoints: what scholars and practitioners have learned about the political orientations of younger generations (e.g., aversion to conventional government and politics, but strong interest in making contributions to society), and how politicians may learn to use online tools to address these generational developments; how educational settings can offer young people more appealing civic education experiences and more useful communication skills; and how effective civic engagement networks are built, and what NGOs and educators have learned about what works; and how young citizens can be encouraged and empowered to find effective ways of networking and acting in society. Above all, this chapter, and the volume as a whole explore what scholars, practitioners, and policymakers in the future need to learn about public life in the digital age.