Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.” Sound familiar? Describing, in The Atlantic Monthly, his own struggles to keep his attention span from contracting like the wild ass’s skin in Balzac’s novel, Nicholas Carr cites a British study of research habits among visitors to two serious scholarly websites which suggests a more general problem: that “users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of ‘reading’ are emerging as users ‘power browse’ horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.”
How dumb are we? Thanks to the Internet, dumb and dumber, this author writes. By Lee Drutman, Special to The Times
July 5, 2008
In the four minutes it probably takes to read this review, you will have logged exactly half the time the average 15- to 24-year-old now spends reading each day. That is, if you even bother to finish. If you are perusing this on the Internet, the big block of text below probably seems daunting, maybe even boring. Who has the time? Besides, one of your Facebook friends might have just posted a status update!
MILLENNIALS, Quarter-lifers, Generation Y, Twixters, Oh-Ohs — it’s hard to know what we parents of a certain age are supposed to call the young people now coming through the pipeline, the ones born after 1982. Oh, I forgot one: the Boomerangs. They’re the children of baby boomers who, after graduating from college, return to the nest and sponge off their families. In 2006, if you believe the studies, almost half of all newly minted college graduates did this.
Mark Bauerlein has a catchall term for all these young people, especially the ones now in high school: he labels them “the dumbest generation,” which is also what he calls his new book, subtitled “How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.”
Bookshelf Can U Read Kant? By DAVID ROBINSON May 13, 2008
It would seem that technology and culture both make the present a good time to be young. The digital tools that are reshaping our economy make more sense to young "digital natives" than to members of older generation, an imbalance of abilities that tips the economic and political scales in favor of young people. Meanwhile, aging boomer parents, rather than pass down a fixed, canonical culture to their kids, encourage a modern-day version of their own rebellion, inviting younger voices to disrupt stodgy cultural continuities.
To Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University, the present is a good time to be young only if you don't mind a tendency toward empty-headedness. In "The Dumbest Generation," he argues that cultural and technological forces, far from opening up an exciting new world of learning and thinking, have conspired to create a level of public ignorance so high as to threaten our democracy.
The Dumbest Generation? Don’t Be Dumb. By Sharon Begley and Jeneen Interlandi NEWSWEEK June 2, 2008 Issue
George Santayana, too, despaired of a generation's ignorance, warning that 'those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.' That was 1905. Really, don't we all know by now that finding examples of teens' and twentysomethings' ignorance is like shooting fish in a barrel? If you want to exercise your eye-rolling or hand-wringing muscles, take your pick. Two thirds of high-school seniors in 2006 couldn't explain an old photo of a sign over a theater door reading COLORED ENTRANCE. In 2001, 52 percent identified Germany, Japan or Italy, not the Soviet Union, as America's World War II ally. One quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds in a 2004 survey drew a blank on Dick Cheney, and 28 percent didn't know William Rehnquist. The world's most heavily defended border? Mexico's with the United States, according to 30 percent of the same age group. We doubt that the 30 percent were boastful or delusional Minutemen.
Like professors shocked to encounter students who respond with a blank-eyed "huh?" to casual mentions of fireside chats or Antietam or even Pearl Harbor, and like parents appalled that their AP-amassing darling doesn't know Chaucer from Chopin, Mark Bauerlein sees in such ignorance an intellectual, economic and civic disaster in the making. In his provocative new book "The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30)," the Emory University professor of English offers the usual indicators, grand and slight. From evidence such as a decline in adult literacy (40 percent of high-school grads had it in 1992; only 31 percent did in 2003) and a rise in geographic cluelessness (47 percent of the grads in 1950 could name the largest lake in North America, compared with 38 percent in 2002), for instance, Bauerlein concludes that "no cohort in human history has opened such a fissure between its material conditions and its intellectual attainments."