The Reading Room

How students consume news

You’ve Googled the world, you’ve updated your status on Facebook, you’ve uploaded your pictures to Flickr, and you’ve tweeted about it on Twitter. But now Google would like you to head back its way and join in the Buzz and follow all of the previous actions in one place. Students no longer spend time in rock and roll bands or kick a football around but play an endless game of keeping up with their socialnet life. With instant Internet connection available everywhere on and off campus, computer terminals in the middle of the student’s union and 24-hour access to the library; the world is literally at our fingertips. Such accessibility allows for instantaneous information and constant communication to the point where real conversation has been devalued along with the textbook and dictionary.

The art of actively seeking knowledge seems to have disappeared as one can answer a question in a matter of seconds. Two friends of mine recently settled a dispute if Cambodia had a McDonalds with the help of wikipedia. The mask of a witty intellect is very easy to don, all you need is a computer. Students are suddenly more confident to answer a question in lecture with their iphone hidden below the desk.

Our lives are spent online exploring the vast wonders of the Internet. One can match a face to a story and personalise the news. One can and probably has watched the riots in Iran on youtube or even Saddam Hussein’s execution. My generation is extremely visual. Our lives move so fast that images seem to be the only way to capture our attention. Perhaps we are just extremely hyperactive and need to stop drinking Redbull and go sit in an empty room for a while, but this is how life is. With more pressure on students to fill their CVs while still having a social life, there seems to be no time to read the newspaper in the morning or watch the evening news. The easier news is to access, the more likely the chance is that we will read it. Podcasts and online papers are the mode of choice. The thirty-second sound byte has been reduced to five seconds. However, those five seconds do not leave adequate room for analysis and interpretation. This could be detrimental in the end with further room for manipulation of the facts. No one is fully certain of the truth, but they do know that “something” of the sort did happen.

With the soaring costs of education and the freeness of the Internet, the idea of paying for information seems ridiculous. Why would anyone pay for a newspaper when the same article is available online for free? Unfortunately newspapers have noticed this as well, with major publishing companies like the Gannett Company losing up to 35% of revenue from reduced readership and low advertisement revenue resulting in Depression-era figures. However, no student I know is prepared to pay for information in the era of free Internet. No one is willing to pay the ludicrous newspaper price of £2 despite every one of my politics lecturers encouraging us to read the Financial Times or the Economist.

While the constant updating of our daily life via Facebook and Twitter is an egotistical outlet for our boredom and procrastination, it can still be a brilliant tool for conveying a message to millions in seconds. No longer do politicians need to knock on every door in town, they simply need to post a message in 140 characters or less. The graduate recruitment website “found that a massive 98% of all students and graduates have a Facebook profile” (The National Student, online version). Every major figure in our world today is online, from Obama’s brilliant tactical strategy to capture the youth via Facebook to the Pope’s weekly e-sermons, and now even the Dali Lama who attracted more than 70,000 Twitter followers in two days.

The world is running faster than ever and students are wired at this pace. Although proper analysis is going wayside, the ability to learn more information outside of the textbook is a vital feature of the 21st century.

Jordan Junge is studying for a Masters in Human Rights at LSE. She is one of 12 regional winners of the British Council’s International student of the year 2010

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