Friday, April 20, 2012

"The Dumbest Generation" by Mark Bauerlein

My review of the book The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein

Key points:

  • The book raises some interesting questions and data, but leads to some faulty conclusions. (It seems that the author wrote it with a particular axe to grind.
  • Young people aren't the only ones who are distracted by Facebook, texting, etc.
  • Similar distractions existed in pre-Internet eras. (I talk about the 1980s in particular.)
  • Worth reading...but take its conclusions with a grain of salt.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Does the Internet threaten reading?

Among people who care about things, the answer in recent years has often been a resounding "yes." The over-40 crowd (of which yours truly is a member) habitually worries about the demise of all that was grand and glorious in the good old days. 

One of these grand and glorious things of yesteryear was reading--or so we are led to believe. (I grew up in the 1980s, when MTV, FM radio, and VHS machines were the stand-in scapegoats for such evils; but that is another story.) Two notable books of the past decade, Mark Bauerlein's The Dumbest Generation, and  Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur, cite the Internet as the culprit in declining levels of both readership as well as high culture. 

Bauerlein and Keen approach the problem from different angles, but both reach similar conclusions. According to Bauerlein, the main problem is the folks under 30 who spend all of their time on Facebook--or on their phones, sending text messages. According to Keen, the problem is the Internet itself: Vacuous blogs and user content-driven sites like YouTube and MySpace are destroying publishing firms and movie studios through a combination of online piracy and generalized distraction. 

Either scenario predicts a future in which the average American never reads for pleasure (if he or she can read at all) but spends all of his time transfixed before a computer screen, watching stupid pet videos on YouTube (a site which admittedly overflows with inanity.)

Not so fast: One offshoot of the digital revolution has been the proliferation of e-readers. They have become so cheap and accessible that 21percent of American adults now own one. And according to this article, those devices are leading to a renewed passion for reading--not just e-reading, but the reading of real, physical books. Libraries are getting visitors again.

This goes to prove what I've stated before: At a certain point, all the Internet/smart-phone based activities reach a saturation point with most people. In other words, the average person with an IQ above 70 can only peruse so many Facebook posts before they get bored to tears with the whole thing.

And then, of course, they might just be in the mood for something to read.