More Mockery

USA Today’s Dumbest Article (Today, that is)

It appears that desperation breeds sensationalism. USA Today attempts to stave off irrelevancy by publishing nonsense. Modified article below. As usual, footnotes and italics are mine. Some minor deletions of original article may also occur.
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Original Article By Erin Thompson, USA TODAY
Teens and young adults are more likely in their free time to check their Facebook page than read a book.

And they are dumber for it.

“If you examine history closely, you’ll see that the only free time option since the dawn of time has been reading books. Now we have one other option, that monstrosity, that corrupter of youth, that Facebook. I think you can see why we’re doomed.”

That is Mark Bauerlein’s contention in The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, How to Sound Arrogant and Make Money Off Bitter Old People), recently released in paperback (Tarcher/Penguin, 236 pp.)

Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University in Atlanta, says Generation Y, ages 16-29, has been shaped by exposure to computer technology since elementary school. Those individuals who are 30 were lucky enough to escape this tragedy entirely and have normal levels of intelligence.

The cost, he says, outweighs the convenience. Kids are writing more than ever online or in text messages, but it’s not the kind of narrative skill needed as adults, he says. “Those forms groove bad habits, so when it comes time to produce an academic paper … or when they enter the workplace, their capacity breaks down.”

“Ask any adult,” Bauerlein states. “They write long research papers on novels virtually everyday. Poetry also abounds. Footnotes and citations are key elements in every adult’s life. In the real world, no one wastes time with personal communications and relationship building.”

Social networking sites can give young users “the sense of them being the center of the universe,” Bauerlein says.

“It’s kind of like an English teacher being interviewed for insulting the intelligence of an entire generation and assuming he knows enough about cognitive development, society, learning, public education etc. to be able to diagnose the exact cause of their “issues,” Bauerline finished. “Our society can’t handle that kind of ego and arrogance.”

That gives them a distorted understanding of how the world works, he says. “If you go into a room of strangers, you don’t know how to relate. You can’t replicate your IM habits,” he says. “It closes people off from a wider engagement with the world1.”

“It’s not like there are going to be other strangers in the room that have been raised like they have. If only they could have avoided all technology so they’d fit in really well with the rest of society. You know, like the Amish do.”

Parents must do more to pull their teens away from technology, including being role models in developing intellectual pursuits: “Talk with your kids. Kids can’t do this by themselves.”

“If only kids could get off of the Facebook and watch Friends reruns with their parents. Remember if lots of people are doing it at the same time it’s communal, even if you can’t actually see or communicate with one another.”

But Gary Small, director of the Center of Aging at the University of California-Los Angeles and co-author of iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, says teens are just as smart as they ever were. That is why he’s mentioned very briefly at the bottom of this article.

They’re just smart in different ways, Small says. “In some ways (technology) is hindering, in some ways it’s advancing” education, he says. “It teaches our brain a different way of processing things.”

Shortly after this statement Small was added to our list of people who say reasonable things (and should never be interviewed again).


1 The Internet was once rumored to help breakdown borders. This was proven to be untrue in Bauerline’s earlier work “Face to Face: The Only Way Communication Happens.”

Comments on this post

  1. John Hendron said on June 10, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    The article says more about Mark Bauerlein than it does about Generation Y. I’m all for the academic life, but honestly, how many academic papers and novels do we really need (tongue in cheek)?

    I’m not a big fan of the Facebook, but there’s far more wrong with the learning environment where these kids and young adults are learning than a single online, social network.

    There’s something to be said for articles that criticize something that’s popular and not understood by all. It’s usually got something to do with “it IS (Virginia) all it’s cracked up to be, and more!”

    • Tom said on June 11, 2009 at 2:05 pm

      It’s definitely a sad state of affairs. I’d just like an article to try to get to the truth rather than try to hype things.

      Has social networking caused some issues? Sure. Has it mentally crippled an entire generation? Of course not.

      I know the truth and balance is less exciting but isn’t there supposed to be some sort of ethics involved in reporting?

  2. Dana Huff said on June 10, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    I can’t remember where I read it anymore — maybe you do, Tom. I heard a good definition of technology: anything invented after you were born. Otherwise it’s just stuff. This Mark Bauerlein guy is still around?

    • Tom said on June 11, 2009 at 2:03 pm

      I think Alan Kay said that.

      I believe Mr. Bauerlein passed on after he electrified himself making toast.

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