Mark Bauerlein doesn’t think you’ve got the chops to finish reading this sentence because the internets turned your brain into mushy goop. Back in his day, they had to walk ten miles through the snow…
Sorry, pops. TLDNR.
Bauerlein’s new book, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future, or Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30, is probably just 300 more pages of pissing and moaning about how nobody reads Encyclopedia Brittanica. The LA Times recounts his premise:
[On the internet,] people “seek out what they already hope to find, and they want it fast and free, with a minimum of effort.” In entering a world where nobody ever has to stick with anything that bores or challenges them, “going online habituates them to juvenile mental habits.“
Okay, Gramps. Are you ready? I’m going to educate you about the internet in half the time it’d take me to read your book review.
You are obselete. Get over it.
I know computers aren’t that same reassuring beige anymore, but did you notice the way your eight year old grandson popped the case open and reseated the video card when your monitor was on the fritz? Memorization isn’t nearly as important as knowing how to find it. Of course we want it fast and free with a minimum of effort. Here’s the new path, so grab your cane and try to keep up:
- Disk is cheap. We can store petabytes of information cost-efficiently, searchably, and with nearly unlimited access. Actually having access to the data supersedes the theorizing and modeling that characterized “research” back in the day.
- Access is increasing in scope, speed, and convenience while the devices used for access get smaller, cheaper and easier to use. Why have a library when you can have a Kindle? Why look it up in a book when you can google it from your phone? This is not juvenile laziness. It is efficiency.
- Shut the fuck up about destroying language. You invented the whole “decline in spelling” because you couldn’t read your daughter’s text messages. Guess what? She was talking about blowjays.
- Yes, there are still idiots. There have always been idiots. We ignored them before, why can’t we do it now?
His accusations of laziness and underdevelopment bely a criminal misunderstanding, not only of the technology, but of people in general.
When Bauerlein tells an audience of college students, “You are six times more likely to know who the latest American Idol is than you are to know who the speaker of the U.S. House is,” a voice in the crowd tells him: ” ‘American Idol’ IS more important.”
And they’re right. None of their friends will ever ask them about Nancy Pelosi (Hey, look, I just googled that right now). Since when is it a new thing that college students prefer pop culture to politics? I’m sure the kids of the Boomer generation could recite every album put out by The Beatles in chronological order, but couldn’t name their hometown senators.
This is the same generation gap we’ve always seen, just that the arguments are now centered around the Facebook. “Maybe something is different this time. But, of course. Something is different every time.” What it really seems we’re lamenting here is not a loss of anything, but a failure to improve. As though somebody thought that new technology would push us forward and make us all superhuman smart with unlimited means.
The tools are all there, old-timer. Google is ready and rarin’ to go. But don’t expect children to be any different just because you’ve given them access to something. You’ll see gains in effective use of technology when there’s somebody at the front of the classroom who knows how to work the computer better than the kids in the back. Until then, it’s just convenient to not have to memorize state capitals anymore.