Up to your arms in alligators and information

John
John Gushue
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Young people don't vote: everybody knows that. Sure, some keeners will show up next Tuesday to cast their ballots, but most young adults will simply stay away.

The reasons why may surprise you. Well, they seemed to surprise the Dominion Institute, which took the time to actually look at the issue, and came up with a curious - and very modern - reason to explain the absence of younger voters at polling stations.

Surf's up - Young people don't vote: everybody knows that. Sure, some keeners will show up next Tuesday to cast their ballots, but most young adults will simply stay away.

The reasons why may surprise you. Well, they seemed to surprise the Dominion Institute, which took the time to actually look at the issue, and came up with a curious - and very modern - reason to explain the absence of younger voters at polling stations.

Dominion Institute: Reports

www.dominion.ca/polling.htm

Conventional wisdom would have it that young people a). don't care about politics or b). feel they're too busy to vote, but the key issue that the Dominion Institute identified is neither apathy nor a crunched timetable.

It is, believe it or not, insecurity in dealing with information.

Only 44 per cent of adults under 24 voted in the last election, and the Dominion Institute expects that figure to drop even more. Why? Well, about 30 per cent of young adults (18 to 25) who were polled said they do not have enough information.

This is a pretty stunning statistic, given that there has never been so much information about the election - about parties, candidates, issues, platforms and more - available in so many different ways. The parties are still pushing it to you, like they always have, but practically anyone can pull in the information they want, often through the Internet.

Yet, many young adults feel all that information is simply passing them by. Among the 1,000 adults between 18 and 25 who took part last month in a voluntary online survey, the least likely to vote agreed with a suggested statement that the issues are too complicated.

Here's a challenge for the political parties, and for anyone who cares about democracy: the tools are out there to distribute the information, but they're probably not being used properly, or efficiently.

Consider it like a signal to noise ratio. When we perceive there's too much noise, the signal - that is, the stuff we feel we need to focus on - gets lost.

It also ties to a phenomenon that seems counterintuitive, but is all too true: when you give someone a multitude of choices, the chances that they will be satisfied are reduced. Psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote a fascinating book on it in 2004, called "The Paradox of Choice."

Not persuaded? Think about the 200-channel universe, and the natural anxiety you have when you sit down without an idea of what you're going to watch. Imagine what it might be like for a young adult who has not yet figured out where they stand on issues. The volume of information can very well seem intimidating.

These are not early days for connecting the web to the Internet.

Maybe, though, we're still at the beginning of the road of how to use the technologies well. It's got to be about more, say, than a Facebook page and texting tips.

Elsewhere this week

National Geographic: Photosynths

ngm.nationalgeographic.com/photosynth/ synth

I've never been to Stonehenge, but I've seen countless photographs over the years of the iconic English monument. However, I've never seen anything like this National Geographic project, which is adapting a proprietary product called Photosynth to famous landmarks around the globe. Here's how it works: they collect scores of images that together make for a panoramic set of views. When complete, a user can "walk around," as it were, the setting. You click on one image, push in the direction you want to go, and on again.

It's fascinating. Only a few are complete, but you'll see a whole bunch more are in development (and, indeed, are looking for public submissions).

Jeteye

www.jeteye.com/

Are your bookmarks a mess? I still try to use folders to keep a handle on all the sites and pages I've visited, but often just haul random bookmarks to the side, hoping I'll remember to check the content out again at some point.

Jeteye offers an alternative you may want to explore, in that it connects you with others online who may share the same sort of interests you have, from rock bands to travel to reading to sports teams to ... well, anything.

It's a drag-and-drop organizer, too, which makes it quite easy to digest.

John Gushue is a news writer for CBCNews.ca in St. John's. E-mail: surf@thetelegram.com. Read past Surf's Up columns and daily updates at his blog: johngushue.typepad.com.

Organizations: Dominion Institute, National Geographic

Geographic location: Stonehenge, St. John's

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