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The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future

The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future by Mark Bauerlein (2008)
by Mark Bauerlein
buy a copy via Amazon.
synopsis via Amazon.

It’s an irony so commonplace it’s become almost trite: despite the information superhighway, despite a world of knowledge at their fingertips, the younger generation today is less informed, less literate, and more self-absorbed than any that has preceded it. But why? According to the author, an English professor at Emory University, there are plenty of reasons. The immediacy and intimacy of social-networking sites have focused young people’s Internet use on themselves and their friends. The material they’re studying in school (such as the Civil War or The Great Gatsby) seems boring because it isn’t happening right this second and isn’t about them. They’re using the Internet not as a learning tool but as a communications tool: instant messaging, e-mail, chat, blogs. And the language of Internet communication, with its peculiar spelling, grammar, and punctuation, actually encourages illiteracy by making it socially acceptable. It wouldn’t be going too far to call this book the Why Johnny Can’t Read for the digital age. Some will disagree vehemently; others will nod sagely, muttering that they knew it all along. –David Pitt

My Thoughts:
A word of warning, I am under 30, so according to the cover, you shouldn’t trust me.

Two chapters in and I already feel like hurling this book out the window. I felt bombarded with a staggering number of statistics, all basically telling me that my generation is spoiled rotten with entertainment while we cease to retain anything worthwhile for the “adult” world, turning us into ignorant, insolent people.

This book feels like it was not intended to be read by “The Dumbest Generation.” I roundly suspect it’s because I am the young generation Bauerlein is referring to that I feel almost defensive. It is hard to digest a book that seems to be berating my indulgent habits with every sentence. Admittedly, the first chapter sent me off to Google where the pope lived and the Bill of Rights, if this was supposed to be common knowledge, I am seriously lacking.

Bauerlein’s assertions not only sound flawed and exaggerated, but borderline absurd: “They wrinkle their brows if offered a book about Congress, but can’t wait for the next version of Halo.” I may be wrong, but I don’t believe the average person, from any generation, would prefer to read a book on Congress over playing a game. He goes on to write “…reading a book about the Roman Empire earns nothing but teasing.” Well, that is news to me, but then again I am from the “dumbest generation.” Not sure what society he is referring to, but in the one I know, people don’t get teased for reading, in fact you would probably be admired for taking the initiative especially because it seems like so few of us have the patience, nor the interest to do so. When he talks about the younger generation being bibliophobic, I was frustrated. Apparently he did not plan anyone under thirty (I am eighteen) to read this. Every time I read his complaints toward the youth for not reading I wanted to say, “Well, you say we aren’t reading…then why in the world am I reading your book right now?” I suspect I finished the book partly to prove him wrong. I also suspect it might be reverse psychology on his part. To say the author does not understand the youth would be an understatement.

To prove the youth’s obsession with fashion instead of history will hinder their future, he uses this hypothetical example: “If a student interviews for an internship wearing the hippest garments but can’t name a single eighteenth-century artist, the curators will pass.” Not sure why this imaginary student would even go in for the internship in the first place without doing a bit of research beforehand. While fashion might not get you an internship, Wikipedia and Google might. Trust me, I was the girl who crammed the history of the company off the Web I was applying to in high school.

Though despite my complaints, Bauerlein does raise points I agree with such as: 1) the Internet has increased reading material, but the younger generation do not know more than their counterparts in their parent’s generation. 2) rejecting history is not a staunch claim on retaining individuality, but misplaced pride.
The idea of not reading or studying the classic masterpieces in art or literature under the assumption it decreases individuality, disgusts me.

I almost wish this was satirical so that this would at least be a hilarious read.
Overall, not horrible but I definitely forced myself to finish the book. If not for content, this book makes a great learn-fancy-vocabulary-so-I-can-sound-smart-later-book for I can rarely get through a page without a new word popping up like “pedagogy” (which sounds more like a goldfish to me). Fortunately, the conclusion was not as bad as I anticipated, though I admit to borderline elation when I was finished. Overall, if you are younger than thirty, I reckon you will want to punch Bauerlein in the face.

Rating: C+