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May 14, 2008 9:09 AM   Subscribe

Emory University English Professor Mark Bauerlein's new book, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future posits that "[t]he dawn of the digital age once aroused our hopes: the Internet, e-mail, blogs, and interactive and ultra-realistic video games promised to yield a generation of sharper, more aware, and intellectually sophisticated children....we assumed that teens would use their know-how and understanding of technology to form the vanguard of this new, hyper-informed era. That was the promise. But the enlightenment didn’t happen. The technology that was supposed to make young adults more astute, diversify their tastes, and improve their minds had the opposite effect." Some beg to differ. An interview with Mark Bauerlein; Bauerlein on CBS News.

8 Reasons Why This Is the Dumbest Generation
1. They make excellent "Jaywalking'' targets.

2. They don't read books -- and don't want to, either.

3. They can't spell.

4. They get ridiculed for original thought, good writing.

5. Grand Theft Auto IV, etc.

6. They don't store the information.

7. Because their teachers don't tell them so.

8. Because they're young.
posted by ericb (112 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Go back to Sumer! And take these clay tablets with you!
posted by DU at 9:11 AM on May 14, 2008 [7 favorites]


I can't wait to see how this discussion goes. I can't imagine what MeFi readers will think of this idea.
posted by rusty at 9:18 AM on May 14, 2008


A college professor who hates kids today. This is blowing my mind. Did you guys also know that John McCain is old? OMG WTF
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:19 AM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


There is some merit to the argument that if the digital age simply results is more lowest common denominator media consumption, then no, we aren't better off. I would argue that tastes have diversified considerably.

And there is a lot of copy-paste thinking out there. You have a random discussion with a person about some national issues and that argument might as well consist of little more than cites to talk radio, op-eds, or the New Yorker.

But there is a larger point here. If you want to think deep thoughts, you have to think about the same thing over an extended period of time. This has always been true. The digital age offers the possibility to explore and think about a single topic or concept in unprecedented depth. However, it also offer the possibility that your meditations on great issues will get distracted by pictures of cute kitties.

The burden to develop intellectually disciplined children falls on the schools. You don't task a child with their own education. But schools have never had this as a priority. SChools produce media consumers, not thinkers. Don't blame Google or ipods for that.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:21 AM on May 14, 2008 [21 favorites]


speling is ovreated, just ask shakespere.
posted by dawson at 9:23 AM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


come on guys, we all know that the first step in educating someone is to insult them and everyone they grew up with
posted by pyramid termite at 9:24 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, and one more thing - "our" future has already been sunk by the Baby Boom generation. Apparently sex, drugs, and rock and roll don't make for a strong manufacturing export economy. And judging by previous generational patterns, it will be the "kids today" who figure out a way to fix their mess.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:24 AM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Needs a getoffmylawn tag.
posted by RokkitNite at 9:26 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


And judging by previous generational patterns, it will be the "kids today" who figure out a way to fix their mess.

Well, no. It'll be me. I'll figure out a way to fix their mess. Don't worry, everybody. I've got it under control.
posted by shmegegge at 9:26 AM on May 14, 2008 [9 favorites]


Oh. Just noticed the title. Well I guess that's a point to Bauerlein on the whole 'can't read' score.
posted by RokkitNite at 9:27 AM on May 14, 2008


*Insert lawn comment here*
posted by Ndwright at 9:27 AM on May 14, 2008


He probably has a point - as did the angry English Lit. high school teacher in the 1949 Mankiewicz classic A Letter to Three Wives - when he ranted about radio dumbing down the next generation.

(Not trying to be precious- just saw the movie the other day and the passionate anti-radio speech - by a very young Kirk Douglas - stuck!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:29 AM on May 14, 2008


fuk dat noize. ol guy all like "wut up? y u no spel gud?" im all like "yo ol d00d, y ur genurasion b cuttin moniez 4 ejukasion n sheeit? if we dum, it ur fault."
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 9:29 AM on May 14, 2008 [8 favorites]


Our society is more literate than ever: some people use the telephone, but the web, email/facebook/texting, and chat, means that kids write far more than ever before.
posted by niccolo at 9:30 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future posits that "[t]he dawn of the digital age once aroused our hopes libidos: pr0n.

There. I fixed that for the old fogey.

Yes, it's a terrible world we live in: teenagers being concerned with stupid things, being disrespectful of their elders and not reading the classics. Yes, we are surely doomed -- and we have been consistently doomed for this exact same reason since, oh, I dunno, Plato.

Longer than that, probably. I'm sure that Ukthag once delivered a sorrowful speech over a delicious still-warm Mammoth about how kids these days are lazy because of their new-fangled obsidian tools and clay pottery.

Btw, I'm turning 25 today and I just completed Spring semester with a 4.0
posted by Avenger at 9:30 AM on May 14, 2008


As a twenty-four year old, I'm part of this idiot generation. Hi.

I think it's rather scary that I agree with about most of the points Proffessor Bauerlein is making... The anti-video game stuff, not so much, but looking among my generational peers, and especially the people coming up behind us. They really don't read, they really do ridicule people for good thoughts and writing, and god damn if they aren't seriously divorced from reality.

No, it's nothing new, I suppose, but I'm pretty certain that there's a higher percentage of marching morons in my generation than in earlier ones.
posted by SansPoint at 9:31 AM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


I do like the Grand Theft Auto argument, though:

The stats tell the story here. First week's sales: $500 million. The sales of GTA dwarf movie premieres, CD sales, or, Bauerlein notes, book sales. All that video use, Bauerlein says, has hurt in the classroom, too. Thousands of Massachusetts public school graduates are ending up in remedial reading and writing classes in college, according to a Globe story.

Well, if GTA is selling well... and kids are doing poorly... hang on a second... OH MY GOD GTA HAS STUPIDED OUR CHILDRENS!

go back to sleep, parents. it's not your fault. it's the game.
posted by shmegegge at 9:31 AM on May 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


The juxtaposition of pyramid termite's comment with the one following it is classic.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:31 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Look, kids today disgust me, but I'm not about to say that they're any dumber, on average, than any other random population of kids. Those who like to, and are able to, think critically have probably always been outliers. The changing media landscape has just made it easier to see the rift between them and the average; when there's not as much information to process, it's a lot harder to spot those who are unwilling or unable to process it.
posted by uncleozzy at 9:32 AM on May 14, 2008


I don't know... I hear/read this kind of argument, which seems to kind of be a fleshed out consensus of an anecdote, and yet (to put forth my own anecdata) just the other day, when my husband said something out loud about looking something up on Wikipedia for him, our almost 9-year-old told him, "You know, Dad, not everything on Wikipedia is true. You shouldn't just look there!" So maybe there's hope after all???

(She told us afterwards she'd learned that in school. From her science teacher. Awesome.)
posted by mothershock at 9:32 AM on May 14, 2008 [5 favorites]


It's probably for the best that he's never seen "The Hills."
posted by drezdn at 9:33 AM on May 14, 2008


Pastabagel has a point. Are schools teaching children media literacy?

I haven't read Bauerlein's book, but based on the news articles, it doesn't look like he makes a great case for a causal relationship between technology and intelligence/aptitude. I'm much more inclined to believe Steven Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You.
posted by k8t at 9:33 AM on May 14, 2008


From the Facebook page inviting reminiscences from recent grads of the same high school I went to over 30 years ago -- every one a direct quote:

“My favorite memory was when I got taken out of the school in handcuffs just as the final bell rang so i had most of the school staring at me, but that was what made this a favorite it was the rumors about why I got taken out of the school in handcuffs. Rumors like I punch the princable in the face, I rolled a joint in class and there was many other I just can't remeber them all but I remeber from that day on I was know as the guy the punch the princable and what made it great was that the name stuck for years”

“people bringing dead animals to the parking lot and throwing them on other cars was always a good laugh”

“50 foot penis on the football field”

“OMG! I TOTALLY Remember that! And Mr. Coldrey's crazy eyebrows that stuck out.. And his breath stank. Aha.. And he always tried te seperate us. And it never worked.. OMG! And he gave me an in-schol for being late so many times. Lol.. I'm sure it was probably never my fault. Lol.. But still.. A-hole.. :P It's sad to say that he was one of my favorite teachers.. Only cuz he was a pushover.. And he wasn't even in the yearbook.. I was kinda pissed.. Meh.. Whatever..”


Which pretty much leaves "Bauerlein - q.e.d." as the coda.
posted by Mike D at 9:33 AM on May 14, 2008


Ah, hell, that's what I get for not reading the title. To contribute to this post in a meaningful way:

Pastabagel's final point is spot-on, most of this professor's complaints relate to poor education and have little to do with media culture. And some of it is just out-and-out bullshit, for example:

"On MySpace, if you write clearly and compose coherent paragraphs with informed observations on history and current events, 'buddies' will make fun of you,'' Bauerlein says.

Not once have I ever mocked someone, been mocked by someone, or even heard of someone being mocked for spelling correctly. I'm aware that this statement is operating under the availability heuristic and not reflective of the culture at large, but good God, the idea of mocking someone for spelling correctly being endemic to social networking is preposterous. Furthermore, a lot of this "poor spelling" is either shorthand (ie, lol) or intentional (ie, kewl).
posted by Ndwright at 9:33 AM on May 14, 2008


Old wine. New bottle.
I teach undergraduates at a private university near Boston.
My students run the gamut of upper, middle and lower-class backgrounds from all over the US.
These kids aren't "dumb" (i.e. stupid--- how I loathe the misuse of the d-word); they're amazingly connected to the Big Bad World.
They contain multitudes.
Passionate, foolish, earnest, fascinated, mis-guided, hungry for experience, cocky and scared, all at the same time.
They're young humans.
And I am proud to know them.
Heaven knows I have my daily share of "Get Offa My Lawn" moments, but the kids I teach have the capacity to deeply enjoy ( and discuss) aesthetic or political ideas as well as thrill to long nights partying and trolling through MySpace.
Just like I did.
The kids are alright.
YMMV.
posted by Dizzy at 9:35 AM on May 14, 2008 [22 favorites]


*farts. picks nose.*
posted by Pollomacho at 9:39 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


The studies that the Pew Internet and American Life Center have done with teenagers are particularly interesting.

1.
Teens are writing a lot, but they don't view Facebooking/Myspacing, SMSing as "writing."
"This disconnect matters because teens believe good writing is an essential skill for success and that more writing instruction at school would help them."

Kids knowing that good writing is important doesn't sound "dumb" to me.

2. Teens are creating content. Technology is allowing them to do this.

But somehow I can still imagine that pottery class and drawing class participation isn't dropping.
posted by k8t at 9:40 AM on May 14, 2008


Fucking age-ist piece of shit!
posted by smackwich at 9:40 AM on May 14, 2008


Thousands of Massachusetts public school graduates are ending up in remedial reading and writing classes in college, according to a Globe story.

A lot has happened to MA in the last 30 years: huge influx of immigrants, reform of education system, oh...

AND THE ARRIVAL OF VIDEO GAMES. OMG.
posted by k8t at 9:44 AM on May 14, 2008


I've had this same argument at the school lunch table a number of times (with me representing the Dumbest Generation). Typically the argument goes something along the lines of, "There is so much that can be done with [insert favorite social networking site]!! Cell phones are the end of the world!!!"

I always see a few trends in arguments for the downfall of mankind:
-Not understanding technology. Facebook, for example, can actually be pretty secure and not open to the public eye if neebe. But, that doesn't matter because it can be so open!
-Attributing bad/stupid behavior to the vehicle (such as myspace) instead of the student's own actions. Mike D shows what I mean.
-Upset that they can't control the kids. A parent was complaining about the threat of pedophiles and how they're lurking everywhere on the Internet. My response was to educate their children and make they understand what's out there. She responded, "But I can't keep an eye on my child all the time! There's times I won't be there to tell him what's right or wrong."

I'm always in the camp of the "Meh, there's nothing wrong with this generation. It's just a new and different way of interacting with the world. Get used to it and learn to make the best if it." Like anything else, it's how people use a medium. People will find ways to do stupid shit regardless.
posted by jmd82 at 9:51 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Only disconnect.

OK I realize this may not be popular around here, and falls under "people in glass houses don't throw stones" territory, but my own perception is that the internet (and for that matter the cell phone and ipod) is indeed increasing social anomie (like anime only more isolating) in the long-run. If the internet is perhaps not a wasteland as much as TV is, still it's oft-touted educational value is basically nil. And it can be corrosive, addictive, atomising, alienating, etc. But yes so can a lot of things. Those are the negatives. We all know the positives, as well. But I think the honeymoon is over.

pastabagel writes if you want to think deep thoughts, you have to think about the same thing over an extended period of time. This has always been true. The digital age offers the possibility to explore and think about a single topic or concept in unprecedented depth. However, it also offer the possibility that your meditations on great issues will get distracted by pictures of cute kitties.

I'm not sure thoughts are intrinsically either deep or superficial, but putting that aside, you seem to be saying two very different things here--which is natural, given the subject at hand.

For research and instant communicative purposes, the internet offers great reach, no doubt. But the downside is all too obvious, and the developed attention span you suggest is necessary for critical thought is severely diminished by the internet's seductive and distractive ease. In small doses, and given the necesary context, the internet is a potentially great supplemental tool for development and learning and one's personal edification, but it also serves to provide almost too much: the stimulus and surfeit becomes its own reward, and if it increases multi-tasking it also decreases the attention spans and frames of mind necessary to pursue a common thread (pun intended) to its furthest reaches.

The result is like fastfood for the body applied to the brain: a kind of hypertrophic attention span, mental sedation and collective poor mental diet that results in mental obesity. Or, to use another analogy, it's like the epistemic and heuristic equivalent of speed (the drug): an instant gratification that comes with a heavy price.
posted by ornate insect at 9:52 AM on May 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


(its oft-touted, not it's)
posted by ornate insect at 9:55 AM on May 14, 2008


Avenger, you were doing just fine:
Yes, it's a terrible world we live in: teenagers being concerned with stupid things, being disrespectful of their elders and not reading the classics. Yes, we are surely doomed -- and we have been consistently doomed for this exact same reason since, oh, I dunno, Plato.

Longer than that, probably. I'm sure that Ukthag once delivered a sorrowful speech over a delicious still-warm Mammoth about how kids these days are lazy because of their new-fangled obsidian tools and clay pottery.
Until you got to this part:
Btw, I'm turning 25 today and I just completed Spring semester with a 4.0
You could have let the quality of your writing speak for itself, but you had to go and toot your own horn. Dummy.
posted by Mister_A at 9:57 AM on May 14, 2008


Old wine. New bottle.

Yeah, as this article from 1.5 years ago argues... and whose argument gets demolished by the very fine folks from MetaFilter.

Anyway, for me at least the whole promise actually worked out pretty well. I mean, my kids take capoiera lessons. Capoiera fer cripes sakes! I can't get any more hyper-informed and diversified in my tastes until they discover alien life. Yes, that sounds pretentious but it's sorta true.
posted by GuyZero at 9:59 AM on May 14, 2008


97% of all people suck, live pointless lives, or are as depressing as hell. I could go and write a book about them, but I'd rather be out in the world chatting and snogging with the other 3%, no matter what age they are.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 10:02 AM on May 14, 2008 [5 favorites]


I agree, ornate insect, but suspect that our great-grandparents, upon hearing of the rise of the public library system promulgated by Carnegie and others, might have been just as fearful for the next generation: "All those books! All those ideas floating around!"
The delivery system (bottles) change, but the wine remains...
posted by Dizzy at 10:03 AM on May 14, 2008


Message 1 from older generation: "You thankless bastards are destroying civilization as we know it!"

Message 2 from older generation: "Wow, we sure did leave you a lot of fucked up shit to clean up there. Good luck!"

#2 is taking up all of my time at the present, Mr. Bauerlein. It's very difficult not to despair. Now I am also stupid? Please feeding the media machine you pretend to critique.
posted by Tehanu at 10:05 AM on May 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


There should be a "stop" in that last sentence. I previewed, but this terrible community weblog thing ate my brain.
posted by Tehanu at 10:07 AM on May 14, 2008


I got off this guy's lawn but he just ran after me, screaming.
posted by Nattie at 10:08 AM on May 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


I red dis fer da lulz yo
posted by Mister_A at 10:10 AM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


You could have let the quality of your writing speak for itself, but you had to go and toot your own horn. Dummy.

noh u r dum
posted by Avenger at 10:10 AM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


I keep wondering how much of this perpetual handwringing about the next generation is fueled by resentment at the fact that, no matter what we do, they're going to outlive us. The world we live in is going to be all theirs someday, and we'll be dust, and we can't stand it.
posted by MrVisible at 10:11 AM on May 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


YOU ARE ALL INTERNETTED STUPID!!
posted by pyramid termite at 10:12 AM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


[NOT HERMITOSIS-IST], are you one of those cyber misanthropes I keep reading about?

Dizzy--but does the internet age offer intellectual ferment, puerile distraction, or a little of both? I'm trying to avoid a strict either/or dichotomy here, obviously. Yet one need not be McLuhan or Morris Berman or a sociologist to see how the internet has been largely co-opted. I am grateful it exists, and have learned much from it.

But we should not down-play the negatives here either: its fall from techno-empowerment to something at times close to techno-enslavement has been remarkably swift, if still thankfully incomplete. I suppose the verdict is still out.
posted by ornate insect at 10:14 AM on May 14, 2008


[NOT HERMITOSIS-IST], are you one of those cyber misanthropes I keep reading about?

97% of all people suck? If anything, the dude's an optimist.
posted by Spatch at 10:23 AM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wikipedia writing is clean and factual, but colorless and judgment-free.

Wikipedia is clean, factual, and judgment-free? Now I've heard everything. If anything, isn't the big ivory tower argument against Wikipedia that everything on it has the obverse of all of those qualities, which is why it's not to be trusted?

Just another hysteria-fueled fast-buck $25 "what's wrong with our society?" tome with a ridiculously overlong 20-word subtitle that will wind up in a month in the remainder and discount bins in the used bookstores that these kids supposedly never walk into anyway because OMG BOOKZ SUcK.
posted by blucevalo at 10:23 AM on May 14, 2008


The burden to develop intellectually disciplined children falls on the schools.
posted by Pastabagel


!!!
posted by DU at 10:26 AM on May 14, 2008


True, good friend ornate insect.
My public library is only open 5 days a week.
My internet is 24/7.
My public library is two miles from my house.
My internet is 10 steps from my kitchen.
BUT
There are very few chuckleheads in my public library.
Lots of chuckleheads on the intartubes.
Perhaps that is the difference?
posted by Dizzy at 10:27 AM on May 14, 2008


EVERY generation has a sizeable portion of the younger generation that slacks off considerably in the face of opportunity, and another portion that shuns the shallowness in culture and goes out and makes something of itself, and makes everyone proud. I feel confident that the latter is still present in the current generation. I'm also confident that based on the myriad opportunities available that everyone else seems to be squandering, the portion of this generation that is making the most of its opportunities (and actually counts in the grand scheme of things) is actually going to be smarter, relative to previous generations.
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:32 AM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'm going to hate it when I grow up and my kids dress as Emos for Halloween.
posted by hellojed at 10:35 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Furthermore, a lot of this "poor spelling" is either shorthand (ie, lol) or intentional (ie, kewl).

Exactly. I personally don't write that way because I think it's too informal, but I suspect the reason why most kids do it is because they are bad at typing rather than that they are too stupid to know how to spell any better than they do. That's why nearly everyone (including adults) uses that kind of shorthand when sending text messages on a phone without a full keyboard.

It would be interesting if somebody did a linguistic analysis on the writing style of the internet versus offline informal writing. To me the incorrect perception that it is "misspelled English" rather than a purposeful change from normal English is similar to the misconception that African American English (AKA Ebonics) is just normal English with bad grammar.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:40 AM on May 14, 2008


...all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds
posted by Postroad at 10:40 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


chucklehead is going to be one of those words that marks a generation, like whippersnapper.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:48 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


we assumed that teens would use their know-how and understanding of technology to form the vanguard of this new, hyper-informed era.

Please define "we."

Also, LOLANYONEWHOTHOUGHTNEWTECHNOLOGYCOULDMAKEUPFORACENTURYOFCULTURALNARCICCISM
posted by regicide is good for you at 10:49 AM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


What we need is a return to the golden year of 1987 when teenagers were engaged in such constructive pursuits as smoking PCP, carving "SLAYER" in their forearms and building pipebombs in shop class.
posted by The Straightener at 10:51 AM on May 14, 2008 [7 favorites]


I think many of us are starting from the point, "There is something valid and smart about us" and reverse engineer the why.

I actually think the internet (and all that goes with it: myspace, facebook, etc) can be a rather negative effect on the mind. It's the same reason that Mr. Rogers hated a lot of TV: it was a sensory bombardment. That doesn't mean I don't use facebook to keep up with people or that Wikipedia isn't useful for getting a general overview of almost any subject, but the efficiency of that bombardment has gone up. People can sit and just waste so many more days on the internet (and I know this because I have to fight this) because the amount of generally amusing content never ends.

The other problem with this new technology is that it doesn't value the editing process as much as the creative process. I would rather read one very well done cartoon or parody than a dozen so-so ones. But unless it's on a site like this, the collaborative process isn't accented. There's just a churning out of crap that people feel good about. I would love to see more constructive critques of words and ideas. Metafilter does this which positions it above its competitors. In the absence of quality control, the internet—though liberating—is also solipsitic and isolating. This refers to internet content, which glosses over the vast majority that only use internet as a medium.

I love this new tool; I can do things I just couldn't ten years ago. I can approach new ideas like it was nobodies business. But it is entirely possible that however much I love the internet, it may have a shadowside on the human mind.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 10:53 AM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Andrew Carnegie was the steampunk Matthoughey.
posted by Dizzy at 10:58 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


The only thing that irks me more than old people saying shit like this, is when young people hear it and regurgitate it at me.

In high school I had the benefit of hanging out with the squeaky clean cambridge bound genius's during school hours, only to go spend my time getting stoned with the chavs and the moshers at a nearby estate in my free time. Admittedly the Cambridge kids worked harder in school, but they weren't actually more intelligent by a long shot. One of the guys from the estate ended up getting better grades than one or two of the other crowd, as did I for that matter (and I was basically more of a comic relief mascot to them than anything else).

The point is, It was always the "smarter" crowd who talked about how youth today are getting stupid and violent, they used to talk with disgust about the places where I'd go to spark up, and they'd deride the people living there as stupid, lazy and all in all worthless, because that was what they read in the paper or saw on the news. This was all coming from the most pretentious and privileged kids, who - to their great relief - would never have to set foot in those ugly places, or talk to those interesting, intelligent, mature people who they were so sure they already knew.

Come on kids, the lawn is right there! Lets at least all stand on it together.
posted by emperor.seamus at 10:59 AM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


There have been studies of Internet-based writing, I've tried to pick a few that don't require a subscription to access:


Gender, Identity, and Language Use in Teenage Blogs

Anything by Naomi Baron
posted by k8t at 11:00 AM on May 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


YOU ARE ALL INTERNETTED STUPID!!

know ur teh stuped1!!!1

Also, may I posit an argument? It is not technology that is failing the younger generation; rather, it is their elders who have done so.

Budget for education, folks.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:00 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


3. They can't spell. When they're running the world we'll be the ones who can't spell.
posted by MikeMc at 11:00 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nothing says "opportunistic horseshit" like a book accusing our generation of being morons being released very near to the release of the most highly anticipated video game to date.
posted by hellslinger at 11:07 AM on May 14, 2008


It seems like this story has been resurrected at least annually in one form or another since I started lurking on MeFi in 2000.
posted by everichon at 11:07 AM on May 14, 2008


By the same author:

Literary Criticism: An Autopsy (Critical Authors & Issues) by Mark Bauerlein

and

What went wrong?(B. R. Myers, Reader's Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose)(Book Review): An article from: New Criterion [HTML] (Digital) by Mark Bauerlein

I quote the opening comments from the "Pretentiousness" notes"

"Why is unmerited praise so annoying? The opposite sin, unmerited censure, we consider unjust and meet with indignation. But the misplaced compliment, the excess approval, the outsized reward given to what we know doesn't deserve it--that we find distasteful. Even in matters of culture, where the stakes are less immediate, undue favor gives offense."
posted by dragonsi55 at 11:11 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm coming to the conclusion that almost any nonfiction book whose title has a colon halfway through, with the word "how" or "why" immediately following it, only seeks to confirm what its intended audience already believes to be true, rather than forcing its audience to consider a new idea in depth. See also:

Who's Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life

The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart

and of course

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (which in the UK was retitled God Is Not Great: The Case Against Religion).

Every time I see a title like that I smell a marketing team's cynicism behind it. "You want to be told that the clustering of like-minded America is tearing us apart, don't you? Or wouldn't it be nice to be told that religion poisons everything? Oh, you know you like to hear that the digital age stupefies young Americans." The unfortunate thing is that these titles wouldn't be so prevalent if they didn't have us pegged--publishers know that simply expressed, one-sided arguments are tastier to our brains than nuanced, complicated ones. They know that people like to be told the same things by authority figures that they've already thought of themselves.

I'm sure that half of these titles misrepresent the texts, but I've been burned so many times by them that I rarely like to take the risk. My rule for buying these sorts of books is to imagine that everything before the colon has been removed, and what's left is the actual title--if the title comes off as hysterical (like Bauerlein's does, unfortunately), then it stays on the shelf. I'd probably agree with most of what's in it, to be honest, but I want to resist the impulse to purchase it, because The Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart.
posted by Prospero at 11:17 AM on May 14, 2008 [5 favorites]


chucklehead is going to be one of those words that marks a generation, like whippersnapper.

I think you may have used the wrong tense there. My wrestling coach in HS used that term in derisive affection many moons ago, when great internet spirit slept in brain of Al Gore. Then, Sex-with-Intern become Great Chief, set internet spirit free! Then many more moons pass before I hear "chucklehead" again.
posted by Mister_A at 11:18 AM on May 14, 2008 [5 favorites]


Evidence in favor of Bauerlein's thesis.
posted by russilwvong at 11:22 AM on May 14, 2008


It seems like this story has been resurrected at least annually in one form or another since I started lurking on MeFi in 2000.

It is, but usually there's a sexual aspect, which makes it more fun. Kids are dumb is an interesting enough argument, but kids are having sex OMGWTFBBQ!?!
posted by graventy at 11:27 AM on May 14, 2008


While anecdotally, "young people are dumb" is true, I don't think young people are any dumber, statistically, than either old people are or were when they were young. the notion that culture is eating itself by constantly pandering to the lowest common denominator is twofold; i wouldn't place the importance on the fact that people are watching it, but the fact that people are producing it. In this new age of mass participation, authorship isn't just for the well-read or the elite or those who can get pubished. Any dumbass with a video-capable phone can get a million viewings on youtube, no matter how terrible or banal the content. We link to those things frequently enough on the blue.
These elements have always existed, but they've never permeated our culture so thoroughly. Fifty years ago, the radio wouldn't have aired chavs with motorbikes flying off cliffs, or rednecks ghostriding the whip, or bored soldiers blowing things up with RPGs; thirty years ago, no cable or broadcast network would have. That doesn't mean it wasn't happening- people have always been stupid. The generation of youth isn't even responsible for it, they just happen to be the people who are young when this technological spread is occurring. They will be blamed for it, but they didn't invent it. Theirs will merely be the first generation when it's all so public.
posted by duende at 11:32 AM on May 14, 2008


Not once have I ever mocked someone, been mocked by someone, or even heard of someone being mocked for spelling correctly. I'm aware that this statement is operating under the availability heuristic and not reflective of the culture at large, but good God, the idea of mocking someone for spelling correctly being endemic to social networking is preposterous. Furthermore, a lot of this "poor spelling" is either shorthand (ie, lol) or intentional (ie, kewl).

tl;dr zzzz
posted by bonaldi at 11:37 AM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, it's spurious us-and-them-ing to say that "young people" today are teh stupid. People in general are teh stupid, and at least, thanks to the internet, everybody is reading more than ever before.
posted by bonaldi at 11:39 AM on May 14, 2008


(I refrained from "dickhead", my original choice, lest it interfere with the Pollyanna Committee's unalloyed adoration at the upcoming Me Likez Kidz Annual Banquet.
Plus the fogey-ness of "chucklehead" is unimpeachable...)
posted by Dizzy at 11:40 AM on May 14, 2008


Bauerlein's book looks like it might well be facile, overly simplistic, unnecessarily reductive, and too pessimistic, but I don't think that changes the possibility that something like a similar prognosis, albeit one more nuanced and less slipshod, might be reached not about youth per se, but about the overmediated American mind.

Although I think the one obvious caveat here, and it is a big one, is that the technosphere (of which the internet is the main component) is essentially neutral: its application and possibilities are the problem, and not something inherent in its structure or nature. (For all I know Bauerlein agrees with this, in which case technology cannot be scapegoated as the source of the problem after all).

Having said that, however, I do think technology is never entirely neutral: the first tool of homo sapiens is language (we are what Cassirer called animal symbolicum), and that tool has shaped our cognitive capacities to such a mostly transparent to us extent that even if we wanted to be rid of it, it would not be possible. So while I think looking backwards for a pristine mental life is a fool's errand, I also think it's possible to talk pragmatically (and without slipping into false dichotomies) about the degree to which certain technological practices are perhaps more potentially beneficial or less destructive than others--context being critical as always.
posted by ornate insect at 11:45 AM on May 14, 2008 [6 favorites]


MetaFilter: Facile, overly simplistic, unnecessarily reductive, and too pessimistic.
posted by Mister_A at 11:49 AM on May 14, 2008


Ornate Insect is on to something.

I don't know about dumber... but I do think people in the US are much lazier than they ever used to be. Much lazier. And. Simply because they CAN be. So that's not exactly a ringing endorsement of previous generations. Just an observation of how we suffer from the cumulative successes of our suffering fore-fathers. They WISH they were us.
posted by tkchrist at 11:55 AM on May 14, 2008


The world we live in is going to be all theirs someday, and we'll be dust, and we can't stand it.

It'll probably be theirs before I'm dust, but even before then they'll have already progressed far enough in fucking it up that they'll be welcome to it, as far as I'm concerned, and I will welcome death.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 12:00 PM on May 14, 2008


Technology most defiantly can have negative effects:

The Microwave has lowered the general populations ability to cook. I know some people who if they can't put it into a Microwave than it's too much bother. Stoves, pans, chopping, cleaning etc.. special event.

The television has most defiantly been a dumber-downer, in aggregate. More man-hours are spent watching commercials on a typical American weekend than the total hours spent in building Wikipedia. People used to spend their free time doing something "constructive" - bettering themselves, their community - or even cooking.

Cars and other transportation have greatly reduced health, people walk less more than ever (when they are not watching TV eating microwaved food).
posted by stbalbach at 12:05 PM on May 14, 2008


Technology most defiantly can have negative effects

Spell-check, for one.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:07 PM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


my own perception is that the internet (and for that matter the cell phone and ipod) is indeed increasing social anomie

Oh c'mon. Television? No technological invention has done more to isolate and stupefy human beings in the modern age. On *average* people watch 3 hours a day. Some people must watch 7-8. What are they learning from TV? Pop culture trends and advertising.

No matter how new technologies revolutionize civilization (the Internet will have a much bigger impact that TV), to blame them for dumbing down our children is likely a mistake.

Or what Sys Rq said: You want smarter kids, you need to budget properly for education, and enact sane educational policies. I blame the return of virtual segregation and "No Child Left Behind" much more than I would blame video games or text messaging.

How much does your kid's teacher make? How about your local TV sports guy? I know that's a false dichotomy or a strawman or some other error, but the market has shown how much we value education *for all kids*. We certainly value education for our own kids, as evidenced by the rise in tuition for private schools and universities. \rant

on preview: ornate insect is onto something, but I'm not smart enough to follow. ;)

Technology most defiantly can have negative effects ... microwaves

Raw foodists might say that fire was a negative techology. "Negative" is pretty relative, though.

Of course technology can be negative. See: nuclear weapons; DU bombs; automobiles, crack cocaine, tasers. (...tried to find a link to Gass' "On Evil" with no luck ...)
posted by mrgrimm at 12:16 PM on May 14, 2008


It'll probably be theirs before I'm dust, but even before then they'll have already progressed far enough in fucking it up that they'll be welcome to it, as far as I'm concerned, and I will welcome death.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:00 PM on May 14 [+] [!]

Epony-depressing.
posted by MrVisible at 12:18 PM on May 14, 2008


Well, I do have to maintain the brand occasionally.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 12:28 PM on May 14, 2008


Baurlein's shit is all retarded and he talks all faggy.
posted by psmealey at 12:29 PM on May 14, 2008 [4 favorites]


I am dying to say something about Allan Bloom's "the closing of the American mind, but the day job is keeping me too busy.
posted by hexxed at 12:37 PM on May 14, 2008


Jaywalking? No, seriously. JAYWALKING?

I would like to offer a huge "Fuck Off" to whomever coined that term. I'm assuming its Mr. Bauerline, but I'm too busy playing GTAIV to read the whole article. And I'm 40.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:39 PM on May 14, 2008


"On MySpace, if you write clearly and compose coherent paragraphs with informed observations on history and current events, 'buddies' will make fun of you,'' Bauerlein says.


Yeah. If you deliver a stirring speech on the cultural aspects of the Roman Empire and how that contributed to it's eventual decline at Tappa Kegga Broo, you're going to get mocked as well.

If he wants to make the case that people are doing beer bongs in philosophy class, then maybe he'll have a point. But I remember going to college, and while there were more than a fair share of drunken louts, they were less likely to be drunken louts IN the classroom.
posted by BrianBoyko at 12:40 PM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ah boomers.
Fuck off and DIAF.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 12:52 PM on May 14, 2008


Please don't diss colons - they are what saves academic writing from being COMPLETELY dried out and turgid. It's our only chance to have a little pizzaz and write a title that people will remember while also giving the essential details of the subject (like time, place, data, etc).

That said, I think it isn't about the colons, it's about the over production of pundit books which use many words to express only a few meaningless opinions, and even less of sense. That's what strikes me about this man's points. You can't dispute them, because they have no more substance than odoriferous hot air. There is nothing to them, no connection of cause and effect. Not even the demonstration of effect - no trends of literacy or educational attainment over time. (I have no idea what those are, except that they've gone up since c1500 - anyone with a handy literacy link?)
posted by jb at 12:55 PM on May 14, 2008


Well, if you constantly slash school funding decade-after-decade, I suppose you should expect a few extra morons wandering the streets.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:04 PM on May 14, 2008


Please don't diss colons - they are what allows the digestive tract to expel waste.
posted by ornate insect at 1:14 PM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Jaywalking? No, seriously. JAYWALKING?

It's a reference to Jay Leno's schtick where he asks questions of "folks-on-the-street" and their stupid responses.
Jaywalking on Melrose Ave.

Jaywalking in Las Vegas.

Jaywalking: The Bible.
posted by ericb at 1:22 PM on May 14, 2008


Children, please...come onto my lawn. Come, sit. Feel it's supple green splendor.
posted by anazgnos at 1:37 PM on May 14, 2008


Oh c'mon. Television? No technological invention has done more to isolate and stupefy human beings in the modern age. On *average* people watch 3 hours a day. Some people must watch 7-8. What are they learning from TV? Pop culture trends and advertising.

Having spent my formative years as a bona fide TV addict (really, the hours per day were staggering), I can say with absolute conviction that there was once a time when TV wasn't such a waste. This show taught me to read. This one taught me math. This one, geography. This, this, and this, science (though I have vague memories of this and this.)

It's not TV itself that is the problem, but the rapidly declining quality (and presence) of educational programming.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:38 PM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


(I don't know if I used enough parentheses there.)
posted by Sys Rq at 1:39 PM on May 14, 2008


Metafilter: Just another hysteria-fueled fast-buck $25 "what's wrong with our society?" tome with a ridiculously overlong 20-word subtitle

Speaking of 20 word subtitles
posted by JaredSeth at 1:47 PM on May 14, 2008


Things that are younger than Mark Bauerlein... ARE BAD!
posted by Artw at 2:11 PM on May 14, 2008


ornate insect wrote: I also think it's possible to talk pragmatically (and without slipping into false dichotomies) about the degree to which certain technological practices are perhaps more potentially beneficial or less destructive than others--context being critical as always.


Nice comment, and I agree with you, but that's the underlying problem with the book, isn't it? It's context, or frame? How does the author know what GTA or Facebook are? How does he know about Mypace and IM illiteracy? Because he uses them? Because he's cultural criticism community blog has brought them to his attention? No.

Because of the old media. The old media, TV, magazines, and newspapers told him about those new things. The implication is that the Time magazine in which he reads about YouTube, or the New York Times in which he reads about MySpace are somehow better and more legitimate than the new things being discussed. But he is wasting his time reading junk old media, instead of reading some older media, like books, journals, etc.

That's what he gets wrong. That priority equals legitimacy or primacy. I think that's my problem with this article and the whole concept of the book. Once a new medium comes along, you can't evaluate it in isolation, because its mere existence recasts all previously existing media. You have to revisist the role, influence, and imapct of all forms of cultural communication all over again, because something new irreversibly changes the old.

The book that should be written is about whether newspapers, magazines, and TV news matter in the age of the internet. And with a few notable exceptions, the answer is obviously no. Old media does not matter as much, and some do not matter at all. If you abolish the three most popular weekly news magazines from your life, I am convinced the effect will be net positive. Same with all but perhaps 2 or three hours of television programming per week, as well as most films.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:27 PM on May 14, 2008


I like the Prospero metric. Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World by Niall Ferguson may fit the bill.

On the other hand, I thought The Mystery of Capital: Why capitalism triumphs in the west and fails everywhere else by Hernando de Soto was really good, and even-handed.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:36 PM on May 14, 2008


What we may be seeing is a bit of a leveling effect, giving the illusion of wide scale dumbing down. The smartest crop of today's generation may or may not be getting any smarter or dumber because of the Internet -- my hunch is they're faring no differently than the smartest kids of a few generations ago -- but it's almost certainly not the case that the lower half or 2/3 of the population is somehow getting any dumber. 100 years ago, the same segment of the population being derided today for obsessively building their MySpace pages and posting nonsense on Youtube wasn't even literate. They worked in fields or factories and had IQ's in the 60's and 70's. It's not plausible that, on the whole, the great masses of people who have barely ever registered in the historical record except when they staged uprisings are somehow growing dumber as a result of one of the greatest democratizing technologies ever to develop.

I think what's actually happening is that those people are getting smarter, and their range of activities are beginning to overlap with those traditionally favored by educated and well-off sorts -- reading, writing, tinkering with gadgets (or computers), etc. As a consequence, they're now being judged by the same standards that have always been used to judge the smartest quarter of society. Of course they're going to fall short. In effect, the proportion of the population constituting the educated, "smart set" has been massively expanded. Have we lost something? Perhaps; the cultural and societal elite is somewhat less identifiably "elite" now. But I'm not sure how disconcerting that really is.
posted by decoherence at 2:47 PM on May 14, 2008 [5 favorites]


How old can a guy who did his doctorate in 1988 be, anyway? He's basically just old enough to be a bitter old punk, I would have thought.

(I looked on wikipedia, but funnly enough he doesn't seem to have a page)
posted by Artw at 2:50 PM on May 14, 2008


I hate to sound all new-agey and jazz-handy, but there really are significant new modes of communication these days, and as Pastabagel says, discussing them without extensive first-hand knowledge of the aesthetic, grammatical, and other conventions of these media, in other words, discussing knowledge and experience of the new modes through the filter of old media completely misses the mark.

In other words, there're good LOLCATS and bad, and to observe that highly variable and idiosyncratic spelling on the web, in IM, etc, is proof positive of "dumbness" is to entirely miss the point that most of it is done on purpose, to obfuscate, entertain, or ridicule, and further, this observation points up a certain lack of imagination and mental inflexibility in the observer.

I do believe that this: They cannot explain basic scientific methods... is true, but it was true long before the internet rose from nerd-cellar obscurity to cultural pre-eminence. The people that I have known who could explain "basic scientific methods" are known as "scientists" (or sometimes writers).

And are we really supposed to believe that the web has not led to a diversification in tastes? Why are so many American kids into manga art, for instance, something I had never heard of when I was 12? Not to mention, hello, rule 34? Ever hear of it?

This guy is mad because he doesn't get the rules of the internet, and can't be one of the "cool kids".
posted by Mister_A at 2:52 PM on May 14, 2008


Mark Bauerlein is to the academic "public intellectual" what John Dvorak is to the tech journalist: a professional troll. Take a look at his Chronicle of Higher Ed blog sometime to see the professoriate's version of the Mac-vs-PC clickbait column. The topic is not important as long as there's a supply of people to be riled up; it used to be how "theory" and/or Tenured Radicals have ruined the Proper Veneration of the Great Books, but lately the audience for that one has dwindled, hence the new Why Can't Johnny Read? act. The role of the nostalgic-reactionary curmudgeon is sometimes too easy and attractive to resist (especially when you style it something closer to gadfly-provocateur speaking unpopular truths, as would anyone who hasn't been taken seriously for a long time). In my opinion, the only necessary response to this stuff is YHBT. YHL. HAND.
posted by RogerB at 3:30 PM on May 14, 2008


(I looked on wikipedia, but funnly enough he doesn't seem to have a page)

The internet heard him dissin' it, and he is slowly being exiled.
posted by emperor.seamus at 3:36 PM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Metafilter:: Everypost Bad Is Good For You: How Today's Politicsfilter and M$ SuXx0rs! Is Actually Making Us Smarter
posted by lukemeister at 4:47 PM on May 14, 2008


I have the privilege of teaching First-year Composition, and I have to agree wholeheartedly with Dizzy's first comment, as well as the rest of them. The kids are alright. They just need a little help, perhaps, to view the world through some other lenses than they've been given. Public (and in some cases private) education is deeply flawed in many ways, and it does not prepare students to think critically about the world and their position in it.

It's my job to teach them to write, and I am allowed a great deal of leeway in how I choose to do that. This often involves choosing issues close to them and discussing the ramifications of their choices. I'm not up on a platform with a specific agenda, (though I try to be extremely transparent about my own biases) but I do want them to question things. I'm always asking cui bono?

They learn how to write well, and it seems to me that they leave with a more finely-honed critical sense-- they learn and use words like "discourse community," and they can switch discourses--just because some speak and write in AAVE or whatever particular argot or creole does NOT mean they're stupid-- they know when they can write and speak one way and when they can switch, in order to communicate more effectively.

They know the media has biases--it's hard not to notice, once it's been pointed out to you. They come back to me saying that they laugh at the television now, the scales have dropped from their eyes, they see the manipulation.

In other words, dis dude is fulla shizz.
posted by exlotuseater at 6:47 PM on May 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


Btw, I'm turning 25 today and I just completed Spring semester with a 4.0

Um
posted by clearlynuts at 8:17 PM on May 14, 2008


USA Today.
"There is this kind of Aren't We Stupid? industry," researcher Rick Hess says. "It's a drumbeat: 'Don't we keep getting dumber?' " ...

All this data suggest it is both the best of times and the worst of times. While the top students are exceeding expectations, the remainder are dragging the team down.

"At the high end, our best 5% to 15% of high school kids are pretty well-educated," says Chester Finn of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a think tank. "Those are the ones who go on to college and keep America the successful nation that it's been." But we're "still doing a pretty crummy job" with the rest.
The USA Today article cites an AEI study showing that students today are pretty ignorant of history (e.g. only half knew about Senator Joseph McCarthy). But the key question is, are students becoming more ignorant? Or have they always been this ignorant? Where's the historical data?

International comparisons of student achievement, in which US students consistently score pretty badly (compared to Canada, for example), suggest that the Internet is unlikely to be the cause of poor academic performance.
posted by russilwvong at 10:25 PM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, in McCarthys time the kids were all illiterate thugs due to comicbooks, jazz and weed.
posted by Artw at 10:37 PM on May 14, 2008


The level of ignorance I regularly encounter among my age group (18-25) always amuses and shocks me. I've always been a bit of a bookworm, not because I wanted to escape reality, but because I'm curious and want to learn. Are these kids actually content at being so ill-informed, I just don't understand the mindset. The world is such an interesting place, why overlook most of of what it has to offer for temporary superficial stimulation. I like mindless entertainment just like the next guy but there is definite limit to how much I can take.
posted by Juglandaceae at 12:40 AM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ignorance is timeless and ageless. I came to find that a friend of mine, in her late 30s, had never heard of the Parthenon. When shown a picture, she maybe kinda recognized it but did not know where it was or why it had any significance.

And the other day, I got an utterly illiterate note of complaint from a forty something tenant in my apartment complex wherein she wrote, among so many other incredibly boneheaded things,

The point is mute...

The Jaywalkers are Mensa members in comparison.

The point is mute...

Indeed.
posted by y2karl at 12:51 PM on May 15, 2008


Great links, russilwvong.

When I first heard the title of her book, I thought that Susan Jacoby (author of The Age of American Unreason) might have something important to say about anti-intellectualism in American culture (which does exist and is a serious issue, when compared to other cultures), but no, she doesn't seem to have anything concrete to say. So university grads don't know about FDR's "Fireside chats" do they? Well, neither did I, until sometime in my second year of grad school, when I heard a talk from a political scientist about them, which was pure chance. Because they just aren't that important 70 years later; it's not like they are replayed on the radio, and an off-hand mention in a textbook (oh yeah, FDR used to talk on the radio, and it inspired people and stuff) is unlikely to make any kind of lasting impression - the people who remember them are the people who were there. They matter to American historians and political scientists who study presidential rhetoric - they are the ones who can explain what their lasting significance is (if there is one).

But frankly, if I were worried about American ignorance of the world (and I am), I would fixate on the insular nature of American culture and education. It's way more important that young Americans know more about the world outside of their borders than they know about some radio event(s) now two or three generations behind them.

I also teach university age students. And what they don't learn about FDR they are learning about the African Union, or the history of political atrocities in Eastern Europe, or where our ideas about private property come from. Because curriculum changes with the times. Or just maybe how to build bridges that don't fall down, because they are an engineering major, and not a history major -- I think I would rather an engineer master that than worry if he knows about my favorite historical anecdote.
posted by jb at 1:06 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


No, you're dumb!!
posted by pompomtom at 11:22 PM on May 15, 2008


I like the second comment on the Youtube video linked above:


nonnac

i don't know about the quality of this dude's research, but his narrative here seriously undermines it.


posted by Happy Dave at 2:25 AM on May 16, 2008


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