Two women text messaging on their cell phones in a coffee shop on the campus of California State University, Fullerton (photo: Paul Martin Lester)
Beloit College’s Mindset List is compiled every year to remind teachers and other adults about the world 18-year-olds have grown up in, and according to this year’s list, the class of 2016 doesn’t watch TV or listen to the radio, has no idea what a floppy disk is, and has its artistic standards set by the filter options in Instagram.
While list compilers may profess to having some level of expertise on the lives of 2016ers, I carry what is essentially a PhD on the topic.
You see, my younger brother is an 18-year-old from the class of 2016 at UC Riverside, and considering I spent something like three-quarters of my life sharing a bunk bed with him, it’s safe to say I know a thing or two or three or 50 about the perspectives of today’s 18-year-olds.
While the list correctly presumes that 2016 members get most of their news from programs like the Colbert Report and the Daily Show, by no means is the average 18-year-old saddling up to their TV or Hulu for an evening of tongue-in-cheek political jabs.
In reality, your average 18-year-old just does not care. They don’t care about oil pipelines, “legitimate rape,” tax releases, or anything like that. To them, Mitt Romney is just a strange name. Barack Obama? Even stranger.
While the Internet was supposed to breed some sort of information revolution, it has instead given my younger brother the opportunity to kill things in World of Warcraft, a practice he takes a lot more seriously than keeping informed on a 2012 presidential election that, as of a month and a half ago, he’s capable of voting in.
The class of 2016 hates to be called lazy. It loves to be lazy, but it hates being called lazy – this distinction applies to the entire Millennial generation. Your average 18-year-old just does not care about politics. Sure there are your weirdo policy-wonk outliers – I, for example, excitedly (and it retrospect, embarrassingly) registered for a third party that will remain nameless immediately after turning 18 – but the truth is that the vast majority of 18-year-olds and young adults can’t be bothered to print out a registration form and mail it. Registration is a chore, political involvement an activity they have the rest of their lives for.
This is the Internet generation. I’m a few years removed from my brother, but even my earliest memories involve Windows 95, Ski Free, and the Internet. If the country, and California in particular, wants its youthful citizens to be more engaged in political life, it’s going to have to make it as easy as possible. Vote-by-mail was the first step, making voting so easy you can literally do it with your feet up, but the actual process to be able to vote must be streamlined.
It would be easy to say that online voter registration is the future, but it’s not: Arizona has had it for almost a decade and immediately saw a noticeable increase in registration. California’s passed legislation to facilitate it, but my still-unregistered younger brother still lacks a simple website to hop on to get himself registered. It sounds trivial, but the amount of work that separates printing out and mailing registration versus just doing it online is more than enough to prevent today’s 18-year-olds from registering at all. They have grown up in a time of technology defined by efficiency. It’s time for voter participation in California to follow suit.