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Why should I care? News and citizenship

| Thursday, April 5, 2018

I like to think of myself as fairly engaged in politics and the world. I follow many major and minor news outlets on Twitter, listen to a number of current events podcasts in the mornings and tend to look through the major stories of the day in The New York Times at breakfast. I don’t always know what’s going on in the world or within our country, but I tend to have a decent idea.

For the past month or so, however, I decided to reduce my news consumption substantially. I dropped off Twitter, listened to more music and fewer podcasts and read only the headlines of the paper if I looked at it at all. I wasn’t a monk or anything, I just didn’t check the news every day — or every week.

Now, as someone who grew up watching “60 Minutes” every Sunday night and reading The Week every Wednesday, this was a little strange. I’d had gaps in my current affairs knowledge before, but never intentionally stepped back from it all.

For a while it was difficult. Those brief two-minute pauses as you wait in line at the dining hall or LaFun are perfect to work on an Economist article or look through the latest Trump White House gossip. It felt almost like I was being left behind. Not only were the reflexive habits there, pulling out the phone before realizing sheepishly that there was really nothing to do on it, but the constant flow of information was gone. With a news cycle as rapid as ours, you feel like anything you miss is irretrievable. It’s not just the story, but it’s the reaction and counter-reaction that are fascinating. Personally, I found it was as much about the experience of being engaged as the content itself.

After a little while, the strangeness passed. Checking Snapchat stories or reading random Wikipedia pages filled those brief moments of dead time, and national issues retreated back to the classroom. It was kind of nice. Thinking about my friends or even concrete facts about the past was less cognitively demanding than a constant worry about the ever-changing morass of the future. It was still weird when people asked if I’d heard about this or that to say “Nope, I had no idea,” but it wasn’t too uncomfortable. I knew that given a few more days the pundits and journalists and experts would move on to a different issue and whatever had just been discussed would lie dormant for a few weeks, months or years until it became relevant again.

It’s easy to feel, even as someone who grew up constantly watching or reading or listening to the news, that the entire process might be superfluous. We consume news constantly, and every few years when we go out and vote our “informed” decision counts the same as those of people who flipped a coin inside the booth.

Despite my evident frustrations, I shudder to think what a world looks like in which we simply give up on following national or international politics. Certainly, we could all bear to take a step or two back from the 24-hour news cycle, but we cannot simply throw our hands up in surrender.

As we get older, in our lunch break conversations, on the sidelines of our children’s soccer games and perhaps even in our town halls we will have the chance and obligation to serve as citizens and catalysts for serious political discussion about both our communities and our nation.

We must latch on to that in the wider world which we care about. We all have issues that resonate with us. These should drive us to read more, listen more and talk more to those around us, for it is these people we care about and can deeply influence.

We must find issues that impact us. Few people are passionate about tax law, but no one is apathetic about their pocketbooks. Look at local and state government as well as the national and ensure that your communities are accountable to the people and their needs.

We must wade into the national discussion without drowning in it. I point to the local level because we rarely lose sight of the reasons for our political action when we can see them with our own eyes. We read the local paper not to be part of some abstract struggle but for concrete reasons we can see in our day-to-day lives.

If we are to do the same in national politics, we must be intentional and conscious of why and how we engage.

Griffin Cannon is a junior studying political science from South Burlington, Vermont. The viewpoints expressed in this column are those of the individual and not necessarily those of BridgeND as an organization.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About BridgeND

BridgeND is a bipartisan student political organization that brings together Democrats, Republicans, and all those in between to discuss public policy issues of national importance. They meet Tuesday nights (starting Sept.8) from 8-9pm in the McNeil room of LaFortune. They can be reached at [email protected] or by following them on Twitter @bridge_ND

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