Our generation, the millennials, are the subject of numerous articles criticizing and exhorting us for this, that or the other.
Perhaps the thing that defines millennials differently than any previous generation in history is the technology that we have access to.
Millennials are perpetually under fire from information meeting their receptors. However, it is questionable if this proliferation of information has been an improvement or a detriment.
The key is not so much how we get information as how we use the means of obtaining information. With cell phones in every pocket that link up to the World Wide Web, information literacy should be at an all time high. Yet, the media has become more and more polarized, something that has downgraded our ability to get unbiased sources of news.
But it has not always been that way.
The press was essential to the spreading and success of the American Revolution, but it got its birth in American domestic politics during the 1790s and really gained traction during the Election of 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
During George Washington’s presidency, the administration became acquainted with a free press and the tumult that came with it.
The proliferation of opinions and viewpoints made it challenging to govern in an office that was supposed to be accountable to all the people. The Election of 1800 took on a new, hyper-partisanship in the press because of the bowing out of the most unanimously supported man in American history and the emergence of his political successors as candidates for the office that had been crafted for Washington, the presidency.
The press during this time attacked each candidate with vitriol, in a way that makes modern smear campaigns look like truth.
One paper wrote of Adams that he had a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” To which the Adams supporters in the press retorted that Jefferson was “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”
However, despite the viciousness of the press attacks, the election of Jefferson to the presidency meant freedom of the press would be respected.
This was not always the case, though. During the Civil War, President Lincoln used his executive war powers to suppress civil liberties, including the right to freedom of the press. He did this through implementations of martial law.
From the Civil War to World War I, the American press regained its strength and vocal influence.
Yellow Journalism as the popular, under-researched, demagoguery of the press developed and was at its height in the build up to the Spanish-American War. This craze and backlash taught journalists the necessity of honor, honesty and integrity when reporting the news to the American people.
These developments, along with a national centralization, brought about the golden days of the media typified in the journalism of Walter Cronkite.
Cronkite made his name as “the most trusted man in America,” because opinion polls showed great support and belief from the people in his unique new form of broadcast journalism. Even today, many in the media view him as the epitome of a good, unbiased journalist.
The media has evolved in major ways since the time of Cronkite, and no one has the level of unanimous trust and influence that he did in his day.
A large part of this is the sheer mass of shows on television and the invention of the Internet. Websites, such as the Drudge Report, the Huffington Post and the Blaze have evolved out of this age of Internet information and become more utilized as millennials come of age.
One has to ask, with the greater access to information, are we more informed as individuals and citizens?
If we are not, then we must take on the responsibility to become the most informed generation in world history because we have the means to become such.
All this has come to our modern age when the press and media is constant, hyper-partisan, well connected to the power structure and vastly more diffused as well as influential than it has been in the past — though the press has always been a very important fourth branch in the American system, watchdogs for the people.
In our present technological age, millennials need to be critical and questioning of the information they receive. In a time when most people get their news from social media websites, like Facebook and Twitter, or from a three-second sound bites, we live in a society craving a depth of knowledge.
Even our colleges and universities encourage a breadth of courses rather than delving even deeper into their major course of study to master the subject.
Humans still only have one brain, despite the proliferation of knowledge available to it in our modern age — a proliferation of accessible knowledge that is unprecedented in world history.