Insight Labs ponders how technology has changed the way Millennials view democracy

July 27, 2012

Vikram Murthi

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Since the 26th Amendment decreased the voting age to 18 in 1971, the symbol of the voting booth has gone through a period of transition. It no longer represents exclusivity and instead has become a ubiquitous element of American adult life. But for the Millenial generation, the once-powerful act of pulling the lever has lost its appeal as the perception of its inherent value has diminished. So, in the 21st Century, how do we not only make our votes count, but make sure they have value as well?

Well, Jeff Leitner and Howell J. Malhalm Jr. of Insight Labs are trying to get to the heart of that very question. Insight Labs is dedicated to bringing together smart, creative people from non-profit organizations, NGO’s, and government agencies to brainstorm ideas about solving the world’s problems by thinking outside the box. Insight Labs host three-hour discussion sessions (called “Labs”) that attempt to tackle seemingly impossible problems from a myriad different angles. Two weeks ago, Insight Labs partnered with Our Time, an upstart advocacy group for young Americans to voice their unique concerns in the political discourse, to conduct a Lab in Washington D.C to develop a new model for measuring civic participation that takes into account our changing cultural landscape.

This proved fruitful as the team took away many unique insights from the session. For one thing, experts are saying “that turnout in itself is not a particularly relevant measure of the health of a democratic society,” and rather the more relevant measure is vote’s meaningful impact on society. Personal agency is paramount in a democracy simply because people want the feeling that they have control over their own destinies. Voting was the ultimate symbol of agency in the United States for many years, but now that the very nature of agency is changing in light of technological advances that give us an unprecedentedly high degree of personalization and freedom over our own lives, voting seems quite antiquated. Why would the younger generation buy into designating leaders by proxy when their lives are ruled by themselves?

Now, Jeff and Howell are bringing this question to The Afternoon Shift and the American people: Are young people outgrowing democracy? Howell believes that democracy has run its course and that we should form a new type of political participation that can actually accomplish something in the face of political polarization, financial crises, and unprecedented technological change. On the other hand, Jeff thinks that democracy has always needed an intergenerational reboot and the Millenials are just the people to bring it up to speed.

Host Steve Edwards will explore this burning question with Jeff and Howell on today’s Afternoon Shift.  Listen to the conversation and voice your own opinion on our twitter feed.  Use the hashtag #doesvotingmatter