Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University, is the author of what sounds like an irresistibly fascinating 2009 book: The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30). The aim of the book is to describe the intellectual condition of the young American (using empirical evidence). Peter Lawler (former member of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, and professor of government at Berry College) says this book: “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.”
Lawler highlights some of what Bauerlein says in his 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.
We’re still learning how constant screen time affects brain development. On the one hand, some of what the rising generation does in front of a screen is no different than what previous generations did with other mediums (read books, conduct research, write reports). But on the other hand, both high school and college educators are detecting some significant changes, and not for the better. This book is going on my list to read.
HT: Justin Taylor