ON THE BOOKSHELVES . . . The Dumbest Generation

  • Dumbest Generation

“The Dumbest Generation” is a book written by Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. It was published in 2008. In cybertime, that is a long time ago!

The title almost kept me from reading this book, until a friend reminded me of the subtitle:

How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, don’t trust anyone under 30).

This book examines the intellectual life of young people. You hear of the top high school student, overworked, overscheduled and yet maintaining perfect grades, “aiming for HYP (Harvard-Yale-Princeton).” But they are the exception.

Most young people watch TV three hours daily but only 23 minutes reading a book. They often multi-task, playing on their ipad in front of the blaring TV. “I can’t concentrate on my homework without the TV. The silence drives me crazy.”

A study done on 19-30 year-olds shows gains in spatial intelligence from playing video games, but decline in slow deliberate thinking that comes from reading a book.”

Only 15% of the 18-29 year-olds score high in current events. “The world-wide-web grows, but the young mind stalls. The intellectual payoff promised by digital enthusiasts has not happened.”

For all their abilities to handle technology, students don’t seek, find or manage information very well. Technology provides the words and the charts. Students don’t need to.

“Teens and young adults are self-assertive and insecure, living in the moment, but worrying over their future. They stumble through class assignments, absorbing tiny details of youth culture, but ignoring works of high culture, literature, art and history. This season’s game releases are great events while hardly noticing the Holocaust, the Cold War or the War on Terror.”

People seek out what they already hope to find. They want it fast and free, with very little effort.  “The Web is a consumer habitat, not an educational one.”

Bauerlein asks for a balance. Students need to be aware of how technology changes people. They need a balance of technology with thoughtful reading of books, visits to art museums and involvement in the community.

The author also faults teachers, journalists and other custodians of culture who have left youth to themselves. The older generation needs to help bring a balance of technology with traditional forms of culture.

The most helpful insight for me is how users read on the web. They don’t!

Research shows that only 16 per cent of the readers read word by word and sentence by sentence.

Eighty-four per cent scan. They read headlines, first lines of a paragraph and only what interests them. Users prefer news briefs to full articles. When I shared this with my friends, four of the five said they scan articles on the web. I myself need to print a hard copy if I am to read it carefully.

Scanning instead of reading is the trend for people of all ages. It has implications for us who write for this website. It has serious implications for the many schools that are now equipping each student with an ipad or laptop. We will need to find new ways to absorb information.

What can you do?

Help the young people in your life to realize the effects of technology on their brain.

Observe your own style of reading on the web. Pause and ask yourself what you have just read.

We all can gain by becoming aware of the impact of technology on our life.