n Susan Moeller Until recently, the rule was that the curious searched for news. But now the news finds the young, suggests a recent study of 18- to 25-year-olds from around the world. Unlike their preWeb 2.0 predecessors who travelled the internet, students now squat in place on Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, chat platforms and email accounts, gathering their news from there. The fact that youths are sitting like spiders in the middle of a web, content with consuming what flies by, poses serious social and political consequences in an era where Facebook and Twitter have become the media of choice for governments and politicians for public outreach and the oppositions public square for organising protest. A decade or more ago there was much public hand-wringing about a then-new observed phenomenon: The internet was paradoxically limiting users intake of information. Despite the exponentially increasing amount of news and information accessible online, librarians, professors, journalists and parents worried that the marvelous opportunities for serendipitous discovery of new information when browsing a librarys shelves or paging through a newspaper were being lost. Internet users werent stumbling over provocative books or articles that expanded or challenged their understanding of the world, because, so studies suggested, users went to pages and sites that told them exactly what they wanted to hear. Using bookmarks and other electronic means to demarcate where they wanted to go, users commonly visited specific sites they had pre-identified for news and entertainment. A study called 'The World Unplugged was released in April by the International Centre for Media and the Public Agenda at the University of Maryland. The study, conducted with the assistance of the university partners of the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change, asked roughly 1000 students in 10 countries on five continents to give up all media for 24 hours. After their daylong abstinence, the students recorded their experiences. The World Unplugged reported that young users are no longer travelling the same virtual ruts as before. Students rarely go prospecting for news at mainstream or legacy news sites, the study found. They inhale, almost unconsciously, the news served up on the sidebar of their email account, posted on friends Facebook walls or delivered by Twitter. No matter where they lived, students observe that theyre inundated with information coming via mobile phones or the Internet text messages, social media, chat, email, Skype IM, QQ, Weibo, RenRen and more. Its not that students reported a lack of interest in news in fact, data from the study suggest that students today both care about news and are more catholic in their concerns than their immediate predecessors. Instead, these young adults cared as much about what their friends were up to as they cared about local and global news. And that was what was ultimately so fascinating to learn from the studys data: Precisely because students were getting news pushed to them on their social-media platforms rather than going out and pulling news from specific news outlets, they take in more and varied kinds of news and opinions than their predecessors in the pre-Web 2.0 world. When students have 1000 Facebook friends or follow hundreds of Twitter accounts, theres bound to be a more expansive range of news and information coming to them. Librarians, professors, journalists and parents may still bemoan this generations loss of initiative and the kind of active curiosity necessary to gather information in an unwired world, but students today are plugged into news via their friends in unprecedented ways. Theres as yet no viable business model for journalists who originate the news that shows up on social networks, but knowing that young adults are platform agnostic about how they get updated should prompt media outlets to consider how and where they deliver news. A seamless connection between students social groups and their access to news of local and world events may help enable the kinds of engagement and activism emerging recently in the Middle East and North Africa. If Facebook, Twitter, chat and email are already where students around the world meet friends and learn about global issues, using those platforms to connect the two in social action is likely to make sense to young adults everywhere not just those who live in Egypt, Libya and Bahrain. The Unplugged study suggests a roadmap for those engaged in economic development and political change: ?Mobile telephony is not just a social tool to link individuals and more than the growth sector of digital access; its also already the preferred way in which young adults exchange news and information. Those interested in supporting media must turn attention to supporting new media on mobile platforms with all that means for news gathering and production. ?Strengthening independent media and protecting individual voices have never been so important but now those media may be Facebook groups as well as mainstream news outlets, and those voices may be on Twitter, not just on the street corner. Those interested in democratic change must turn greater attention to supporting enabling environments for digital media and access to those platforms. n Khaleej Times