Millennials' Hate For The Media Is Actually Making Them Dumber

by John Haltiwanger

Older generations love to rag on Millennials. We've often been characterized as lazy, apathetic, entitled and narcissistic.

Some of this is fair, given our affinity for selfies and ostensible inability to unplug, among other reasons.

At the same time, it's somewhat laughable the generations responsible for the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression have the audacity to criticize today's youth.

Perhaps it's simply projection: Instead of taking a careful look at their own flaws, older generations choose to focus on the perceived shortcomings of society's up-and-coming members.

But maybe they also have every right to be concerned.

Recent data from Pew Research Center has revealed Millennials are the least informed generation on the news and current events. Pew recently quizzed thousands of members of the public on their knowledge of the news. Millennials, on average, only answered 7.8 questions out of 12 correctly.

In order for democracy to function correctly, an engaged and informed citizenry is required. Voting without proper knowledge of what's going on in the country and around the world is dangerous.

This is not to say we should institute an exam in order for people to qualify to vote, but that we all have an obligation to educate ourselves about the world we live in.

Millennials are the largest and most diverse generation in American history. Accordingly, we have the potential to constitute the largest voting bloc in the nation.

At the moment, however, we're voting at a fraction of our size. In the 2014 midterms, Millennials only made up 13 percent of the electorate, for example, which demonstrates it's somewhat fair to characterize us as apathetic.

But our aversion to voting and our ignorance surrounding current events is a reflection of much deeper and interconnected problems.

Millennials aren't voting for a number of reasons. Primarily, a lack of trust in government institutions -- largely a product of a disdain for partisanship (50 percent of Millennials now identify as independent).

Simply put, Millennials are cynical about government and see it as corrupted by special interests and debilitated by hyper-partisanship. Why vote in a broken system?

At the same time, they also don't vote due to a lack trust in themselves. It seems that many Millennials don't feel informed enough to vote.

According to a recent HuffPost/YouGov poll, 60 percent of Millennials believe only people who are well-informed should vote.

Thus, many eligible Millennial voters aren't exercising their fundamental democratic right because they don't feel knowledgeable enough to do so.

What's driving this ignorance?

What Millennials distrust even more than government institutions are media outlets.

According to recent polling from Harvard Institute of Politics, 88 percent of this generation doesn't trust the mainstream media, whereas distrust in the federal government and Congress is lower.

Therefore, it comes as no shock that Millennials scored poorly on Pew's quiz on the news -- they don't trust it enough to pay close attention to it.

After all, why would you engage with something you don't trust?

And when you look at what happened with Brian Williams or recent coverage of events in Baltimore, for example, and combine it all with the fact that the US ranks 46 in the world in terms of press freedom, why should Millennial trust the news?

Why should they watch and engage with it, and is it really the best means of becoming informed?

Recent research from the American Press Institute, however, suggests Millennials aren't necessarily disengaged from the news, but the nuanced ways in which they consume it might suggest they are.

For example, many Millennials get information from social media -- so, in a sense, their news consumption might be characterized as accidental.

Around 64 percent of Millennials surveyed by the American Press Institute claim to regularly keep up with the news online, but only around 40 percent of Millennials say keeping up with the news is extremely important to them.

This is troubling, and it's fair to argue that distrust of the media has led Millennials to make following the news less of a priority. In turn, Millennial citizens are clearly less informed, as revealed by Pew Research Center.

Moreover, this also suggests that while many Millennials claim to follow the news on a regular basis, they're either not paying close attention to detail or not fully comprehending it.

Millennial distrust of traditional institutions might be justified, but it's making us dumber in that it's convinced us we don't have the capacity to change things.

We don't vote because we don't trust the system or ourselves, and we don't trust ourselves because we don't trust the news enough to value anything it has to tell us. It's a vicious cycle.

Discontentment without concerted engagement is apathetic and counterproductive.

There's a healthy way to balance cynicism with participation. By finding this balance, Millennials can change the institutions they distrust and disdain.

Citations: Five really good reasons to hate millennials (Washington Post), What the Public Knows (Pew Research Center), 15 Economic Facts About Millennials (White House), No Front Runner Among Prospective Republican Candidates Hillary Clinton in Control of Democratic Primary Harvard Youth Poll Finds (Harvard IOP), Millennials in Adulthood (Pew Research Center ), Millennials Really Dont Think Everybody Should Vote (Huffington Post), Who should vote (YouGov), World Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders), Millennials are hardly newsless uninterested or disengaged from news and the world around them (American Press Institute ), Millennials Consume News On Mobile Devices From Social Networks But They Dont Seek It Out Survey Finds (Huffington Post)