The Dumbest Generation – Literacy in the Digital Age

OK, we’ll get back to the “Literary” portion of your (semi)daily gibberish in the next post. Tonight I need to rant. I’ll use the title and basic premise of this book as a jumping off point, but for some further thoughts (and actual material from the book in question) you can check out this post.

As evidenced by HST’s Generation of Swine and Tom Brokaw’s slightly less invective-filled The Greatest Generation, it sure is grand to lump folks together based on the proximity of their births. But what is it with the “Kids these days…” mentality that plagues American society? At least Thompson had the common courtesy to judge his peers. Why are the youngsters among us always put down as lazy, ignorant, rude and good-for-nothing? Surely it has something to do with relative maturity and life experience, but I think there must be something more going on. Then again, what’s with the “Us vs. Them” mentality of the younger generation? Maybe I’m playing into social stereotypes here after all.

Beyond the obvious fact that the generation (of any era) that encompasses the 13-21 demographic is always less mature and experienced than their elders, I think this mentality has something to do with fear. Fear of the unknown as well as fear of being replaced. Uneasy rests the head that wears the crown, and all that rot…

So it’s easy to throw stones and complain that MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and the Internet in general are creating attention deficient zombies isolated from broader society. It’s easy to say that anyone who is fluent in txt (“KPC, BRB – LOL!”) can’t possibly grow up to be a literate, contributing member of society. But consider the slew of recent reports generated by the Pew Internet and American Life. According to one survey 93% of teens write for their own pleasure. This survey puts the number of teens who create their own content online at over 50%. Does this sound like an illiterate bunch?

Maybe people just don’t understand, or choose to misunderstand, the medium. Just because today’s teenagers jump on MySpace to find out what their friends are doing after school doesn’t mean they are being dumbed down. Does it take more mental energy to figure out a website or to dial seven numbers and chatter away for a few minutes? And yes, there’s potential for abuse in the anonymity of the Internet, but let’s look and see again. These kids are smart about this stuff. Just one percent of teens with online profiles “don’t know who can see their profile” [read that report here].

Now, in my line of work I get lots of questions whose answers generally require a mouse click or combination of keyboard strokes. I have been asked whether the library has an email address where someone can have something sent to them. I have been told “I can’t get on the Internet” when I am looking at a monitor proudly displaying our library’s very own webpage. So who’s illiterate and to what extent? Librarians like to talk about information literacy, but let’s just start with technological literacy. The current group of baggy-pantsed, long-haired, lazy, rude, loud slackers has that down. How about Brokaw’s Greatest Generation? I’m not denigrating the sacrifices, achievements and general goodness of any age-group, but let’s think before we throw stones at the kiddies.

And finally, at the risk of sounding like Bill Cosby or Rush Limbaugh: who’s raising these children? Yup folks, that’s us. So why don’t we give these kids, and ourselves, some credit. This might start to sound like a recurring theme. But really, why not focus on the good instead of over-inflating the negative aspects of life. If all we see is wars and rumors of wars then certainly the end is near. So let’s call a generational truce and maybe try to learn at the same time as we teach. And if we…wait a minute…

hey! you kids! what are you doing out there!?

dammit – get off my lawn!

Dirty teens

2 Responses to “The Dumbest Generation – Literacy in the Digital Age”

  1. Perm Says:

    I can’t help but think of Annie Dillard in “For the Time Being” (pp.60-62)

    “The mournings of the wise recur as a comic refrain down the vaults of recorded time.
    “Kali Yuga is Sanskrit for our own degenerate and unfortunate times: ‘the end of the end.’ The Hindus first used the term between 300 BCE and 300 CE…
    “Almost sixteen centuries ago, Augustine looked back three centuries at the apostles…’Those were last days then, how much more so now!’
    “‘Nowadays,’ an eleventh-century Chinese Buddhist master complained, ‘we see students who sit diligently but do not awaken.’
    “In the twelfth century, Rabbi Judah Halevy mourned the loss of decent music: Music declined because it became the work of inferior people. It degenerated from its former greatness because people, too, had degenerated.
    “In the twelfth century in Korea, Buddhist master Chinul referred sadly to ‘people in this age of derelict religion…
    “‘Nowadays,’ a Hasidic Rabbi said in the late 1700s, ‘men’s souls are orphaned and their times decayed.’…
    …’Nowadays, in these generations,’ wrote a nineteenth-century Hasid master, the great teachers and prophets are dead, and all we have are ‘lesser lights.’”

  2. Conan Says:

    Indeed, and well put. Or, as the Ecclesiast suggests, “a generation comes, and a generation goes but the earth remains forever.”

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