You’ve all heard the wailing being done concerning the drop in readership of the paper forms of our print media in favor of online media. This is allegedly a sign that we are devolving into a nation of apathetic dipwads, morons so stultified we can barely force our knuckles to tap out "LOL" when texting one another. A new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project hints that the exact opposite may be true — that in fact the people who are the most interested in current events, especially political events, are fans of online media, where they hope to find the facts without going through various perception filters first: "Some 39% of online Americans have used the internet to access "unfiltered" campaign materials, which includes video of candidate debates, speeches and announcements, as well as position papers and speech transcripts."
Now, this doesn’t mean that netizens are blind consumers of anything they see online. Their faculties for skepticism are quite healthy:
Yet despite the growth in the number of people who are politically engaged online, internet users express some ambivalence about the role of the internet in the campaign. On one hand, 28% of wired Americans say that the internet makes them feel more personally connected to the campaign, and 22% say that they would not be as involved in the campaign if not for the internet. At the same time, however, even larger numbers feel that the internet magnifies the most extreme viewpoints and is a source of misinformation for many voters.
Interestingly, wired Republicans are more likely than wired Democrats to have negative views about the internet, while online Democrats and young voters are more likely to agree with positive assertions about the impact of the internet. I suspect that the Republican distaste for the internet has come about in large part because of the conservative movement’s addiction to outrageous e-mail smears (as georgia10 noted last night at Daily Kos), and also because conservative bloggers and online presences, which are the ones the corporate media loves best and are most likely to promote (how else can you explain the media’s longtime love affairs with Matt Drudge, PowerLine and Captain’s Quarters, to name but three examples off the top of my head?), are the ones the wired Republicans are most likely to see — and really, the conservative side of the online world is chock-full of truly embarrassing people.
In any event, the devolution is not all it’s cracked up to be — at least not on the reality-based side of the online world.