I participated in Young People, New Technologies and Political Engagement, a seminar hosted by the Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Surrey. In my presentation, titled “Am I bovvered?”: The Next Digital Divide (PDF of slides here), I talked about how newly eligible voters in Korea make sense of the online political culture shaped by the first generation of Internet users around the 2002 presidential election. BTW, I felt as if my thunder was stolen when Stephen, who opened up the event by his keynote speech, coincidentally used a photo from the Catherine Tate show, from which the title of my presentation was also inspired.
(from 10 Downing Street)
The seminar was thoroughly enjoyable. A general theme running through this two-day-long event was that young people are not necessarily apathetic in politics but engaging themselves in their own fashion and the concept of citizenship therefore has to be rethought accordingly. For example, Bennett in his keynote speech pointed to the need to “bridge the traditional civic education ideal of the Dutiful Citizen (DC) and the emerging youth ideal of self-Actualising Citizenship (AC)”.
What I particularly like about attending conferences like this one is to hear about real-life examples of ‘Internet politics’ in different sociocultural settings. One of my favourite this time was VoteMatch, a site originally developed in the Netherlands to assist the general electorate with their voting decisions.
You are shown 30 statements regarding different political issues with a choice of Agree/Disagree/Don’t know. After answering all 30, you are asked which among those issues you feel more strongly about (so that the responses can be weighed). Then the site will tell you who you should vote for! Simple as that. What the site does is basically to read election documents from parties and candidates and calculate which one is most matched to your political preferences for you. Could voting, “our sacred right and duty”, get any easier?
According to the presenter Fadi Hirzalla, statistics show that this “voting aid” actually influenced young voters’ decisions. Despite perfectly expectable criticisms of its ideological and methodological biases, this instrument became very popular in the Netherlands and is now adopted in other European countries like France, Germany, Switzerland and Bulgaria.
I am a big fan of any sort of Internet-based political activity, but this one was, even for me, a bit of a goose-bumpy surprise. It then got me to think why I have difficulty in accepting this while I would have no problem with anyone who actively seeks more information and expert advice in order to understand something better. I haven’t quite figured out whether today’s voters are dumber or smarter.
(Mon vote à moi, French version of VoteMatch,
isn’t the name [My vote is mine] a bit ironical?)
* Reproduced from the original article on my website