Peter Lawler summarizes some key points from Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. First, Lawler comments, “That over-the-top title (which I don’t like) doesn’t do justice to the content of the book, which shows that young people are getting smarter in some ways, but dumber in others. Unfortunately for our future, the ways they’re getting dumber are far more important for their dignity and happiness.”
Here’s his summary of some key points in the chapter on “Screen Time”:
1. Virtually all of our students have hours–and often many, many hours–of daily exposure to screens.
2. So they excel at multitasking and interactivity, and they have very strong spatial skills.
3. They also have remarkable visual acuity; they’re ready for rushing images and updated information.
4. BUT these skills don’t transfer well to–they don’t have much to do with–the non-screen portions of their lives.
5. Their screen experiences, in fact, undermine their taste and capacity for building knowledge and developing their verbal skills.
6. They, for example, hate quiet and being alone. Because they rely so much on screens keeping them connected, they can’t rely on themselves. Because they’re constantly restless or stimulated, they don’t know what it is to enjoy civilized leisure. The best possible punishment for an adolescent today is to make him or her spend an evening alone in his or her room without any screens, devices, or gadgets to divert him or her. It’s amazing the extent to which screens have become multidimensional diversions from what we really know about ourselves.
7. Young people today typically are too agitated and impatient to engage in concerted study. Their imaginations are impoverished when they’re visually unstimulated. So their eros is too. They can’t experience anxiety as a prelude to wonder, and they too rarely become seekers and searchers.
8. They have trouble comprehending or being moved by the linear, sequential analysis of texts.
9. So they find it virtually impossible to spend an idle afternoon with a detective story and nothing more.
10. That’s why they can be both so mentally agile and culturally ignorant. That’s even why they know little to nothing about how to live well with love and death, as well as why their relational lives are so impoverished.
11. And that’s why higher education–or liberal education–has to be about giving students experiences that they can’t get on screen. That’s even why liberal education has to have as little as possible to do with screens.
12. Everywhere and at all times, liberal education is countercultural. And so today it’s necessarily somewhat anti-technology, especially anti-screen. That’s one reason among many I’m so hard on MOOCs, online courses, PowerPoint, and anyone who uses the word “disrupting” without subversive irony.