Technological Trauma and Personalized Politics: On the Political Consciousness of the Millennials
Yeres, Sophia C.
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This thesis focuses on the political behaviors and attitudes of the Millennial generation (those born between 1981 and 1991 in the United States) , and discusses not only its specific civic characteristics, but what this new generation shows us about the formation of generational consciousness and the future of politics. Since cohort generations are examined based on an understanding that individuals occupying different life stages will be impacted differently by major historical events in ways that will persist throughout their lives, many prominent generational theorists have thought collective memory and cultural trauma useful lenses through which to explore the problem of generations. A theoretical framework which emphasizes the importance of these historical events in shaping the consciousness of a generation helps scholars to determine where one generation ends and another begins, thereby making the specific nature and impact of these events of great interest. For the Millennial generation, however, not only have the transmission and, therefore, the perception of these major historical events shifted with the introduction of social media, but the sudden rise and very ubiquity of these communications technologies serves for this generation as the functional equivalent of a traditional traumatic event, shaping the way Millennials perceive the world, participate in political life and the manner in which their generational consciousness is formed. I employ primary and secondary research and public opinion survey data to study the extent to which the Millennials’ generational experience can be considered politically distinctive. I analyze qualitative data from ID interviews with 20 Millennials to explore trends in personal politics, social media use and generational experience to supplement the nationally representative quantitative data. Particular emphasis is devoted to social media’s impact on the formation of generational consciousness and acceleration of personal politics. In sum, I argue that social media contributes to a rethinking of 1) our conception of traditional trauma and collective memory as the basis of the formation of generations and 2) the effect on traditional politics of the development and acceleration of the personalized politics to which new technologies have given rise among Millennials – a generation with conscious experience of the world before and after the sea change wrought by these technological and social phenomena.