Wednesday, May 7, 2008

GUEST POST: Reaching the Next Generation

Our next monthly guest blogger needs no introduction, but just in case you don't know her yet, Courtney E. Martin is a writer, teacher, and speaker whose book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body, was published to critical acclaim in April 2007 and will be released in paperback by Penguin in September. Courtney writes a column on politics and gender for The American Prospect Online and is the Book Editor of Feministing. She writes regularly for Crucial Minutiae, Alternet, Women's eNews, the Christian Science Monitor, and metro. And now, she also writes monthly for GWP! Courtney is the resident youngin on our traveling panel, WomenGirlsLadies: A Fresh Conversation Across Generations and teaches me things daily about writing and life. Here's Miss C, with some intergenerational wisdom to share for all those seeking to write for popular audiences--which include, of course, the young folk.

Reaching the Next Generation

When Deborah talks about “making it pop”—i.e. translating academic or movement-specific messages for the popular culture—I sometimes imagine that sound my high school best friend used to make with her gum when she was intent on interrupting our painfully boring biology teacher….POP!

Which is as an apt anecdote for what I’ll be writing about in this monthly column: reaching the next generation. One of the most coveted and challenging populations to reach is us youngins. In an age of Facebook, 24/7 news, and competitive college admissions overload, young people don’t have much spare attention to go around. So what can you—teacher, writer, evil marketer (just kidding, sort of)—do to make it pop specially for Generation Y (defined, for our purposes, as those born in the 80s and beyond).

Lesson #1: Don’t fall for trendy schemes.

Whether we’re talking politics or sex education, young people’s least favorite thing is to be confronted with forced intimacy and/or adults who think they only know how to communicate in acronyms (LOL, BFF etc.). Recent studies from Young Voters Strategies, a project of The Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, reveal that young people are still most likely to get involved in the political process via peer-to-peer, face-to-face interactions, not text messages or YouTube videos of candidates (though they do check these out).

This isn’t to deny that we’re IM-ing, texting, and writing on one another’s walls (if you’re an adult over 40 and you’re confused by any of this, it is a good sign that you’re not trying too hard--congrats), but to say that just because we’re communicating that way doesn’t mean that a) we want you to and b) we don’t still value good old fashioned in person interactions. In fact, expressly because our communication has gotten so remote, chatting over a meal or while sitting on the grass in the park is more special than ever to young people.

In sum, acknowledge our technological communication habits but don’t reduce us to them. In return, we promise not to make fun of you when you talk about how cell phones used to be the size of Bibles.

Ok, so I never had a Bible-size cell, but I do remember VCRs and (gasp) Betas. Edsel, anyone? Tune in next month for Lesson #2.... -GWP

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