Monday, May 26, 2008

Is the Internet Generation Dumb and Dumber?

The recent extensive media coverage for Mark Bauerlein's book, The Dumbest Generation, indicates to me this whole subject has touched a nerve—and isn't it refreshing to have the subject of literacy come up in the national discourse? (It's a nice break from non-stop celebrity cellulite sightings!) As we've discussed here in the last few entries, this subject deals directly with the impact of young people reading less, and the consequences this shift is having on American society and culture as a whole.

I think Craig Wilson of USA Today got it right in this funny column.

Now Newsweek has weighed in with this article on whether the "Internet Generation" is really dumb and dumber than previous generations.

I think the Newsweek folks got it all wrong. It's not so much that kids can't access information in an instant with a quick Wiki search, more than it's the fact that they're wasting their time on the Internet socializing and watching YouTube clips. (Are they hanging out at or at Facebook, MySpace and I'd argue the bulk of time spent online by the youth of America is wasted with the inconsequential and recreational, the fleeting and meaningless. (It's fun, but so is eating cotton candy.)

I think the real danger that The Dumbest Generation points to is the fact that we're losing our common culture. If 30 out of 30 middle schoolers can't tell me anything about Rip Van Winkle, David and Goliath or Pandora's box, then we're losing the common cultural touchstones that we use to communicate—touchstones that you're not likely to learn while posting photos of yourself "shredding" on your MySpace page.

Of course, I still have to read the dang book! (And here I am "socializing" on the Internet!)