BOOK REVIEW: THE DUMBEST GENERATION—HOW THE DIGITAL AGE STUPEFIES YOUNG AMERICANS AND JEOPARDIZES OUR FUTURE
by Mark Bauerlein and published by Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, New York, 2008,
ISBN 978-158542-639-3

Having worked professionally for about 40 years, I appreciate the effectiveness and efficiency of the internet, cell phone, and other information technology (IT) all of which appeared during my career. With it, we can do research in five minutes that, a few decades ago, may have taken five days elapsed time using our local library. Members of a project team or a committee can email, share data and information, conduct analyses, discuss issues, and prepare reports with few, if any, face-to-face meetings.

Today’s effectiveness of and easy access to IT almost makes those of us well into our careers wish we could restart them. Given today’s communication tools, perhaps we could have accomplished even more, or accomplished as much, with less effort. Today’s young people—K -12 and college students, interns, and young professionals—are fortunate. They use communication technology to learn, conduct research, share, collaborate, network, and create, in other words, to do great things.

IT is Great, Or is It?

Or do they? Not according to Mark Bauerlein, author of The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. He argues the U.S. young people, those under about 30 years of age, are under-using or misusing the IT and related electronic gadgetry available to them. Bauerlein argues that today’s youth employ IT to extend and deepen adolescence and to connect even more with their homogeneous peer groups rather than using it to reach out and learn about the world and its inhabitants. This use of IT shifts the young even more into pop culture while taking them away from world cultures and global developments.

For example, instead of using the internet after class to learn more about what was presented in class, many of today’s students use the internet in class to visit You Tube. Rather than viewing the internet as one source of sources of data, information, and knowledge, Bauerlein would argue that today’s young professionals use it as the source and, therefore, they do not verify or dig deeper or explore wider. Instead of reading books, which tend to include higher-level vocabulary, today’s youth again according to the author, skim the internet much of which employs very simple vocabulary, thus incurring opportunity lost costs.

The author is careful to define the scope of his book which is the development, or lack thereof, of the minds of U.S. youth. He writes: “This book is an attempt to consolidate the best and broadest research into a different profile of the rising American mind. It doesn’t cover behaviors and values, only the intellect of under-30-year-olds.” As an added caveat, this book which is subtitled Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30, addresses youth, in general. It does not single out current or aspiring engineers or other professions.

According to the author, this under use and misuse of IT and related electronic devices has very negative consequences for our youth, and eventually the U.S. His view:

Instead of opening young American minds to the stores of civilization and science and politics, technology has contracted their horizon to them- selves, to the social scene around them.the more they attend to themselves, the less they remember the past and envision the future.The founts of knowledge are everywhere, but the rising generation is camped in the desert, pursuing stories,, pictures, tunes, and texts back and forth, living off the thrill of peer attention.

Author Bauerlein argues that serious study and the resulting learning of knowledge and skills of today’s youth are slipping. He uses the results of many studies to conclude that the bulk of today’s youth are anti-intellectual; “uninterested in world realties,” past and present; deficient in use of the English language; and unable to think critically. And, to reiterate, he attributes these liabilities to misuse and under use of IT.

I’m not convinced that the situation is as dire as Mark Bauerlein claims. Frankly, at times this college English professor sounds frustrated and even angry. However, anecdotal evidence suggests to me that today’s youth make heavy use of the internet and electronic gadgets and that much of the use if frivolous.

Time for a Reality Check?

Perhaps, on the assumption that the book’s thesis has merit, each sector of society, such as business, government, education, and volunteer organizations should conduct a self-examination. Do we really know how faculty, students, employers, clients, owners, family members, and others use IT?

Astronaut and engineer, Neil Armstrong, offered this relevant thought: “Technology does not improve the quality of life; it improves the quality of things. Improving the quality of life requires the application of wisdom.” Are you and your organization making wise use of technology and following best practices consistent with your vision-mission-values? Does IT enable you and your organization to be more creative, improve your effectiveness and efficiency, deal with global developments, and pursue major opportunities? Even more personally, are you using IT and other technology to free the leader within you and earn career security? Or are you foolishly held captive by various gizmos while frittering away opportunities to earn success and significance?

Closing Thoughts:  Please contact me if you have questions/suggestions or want to discuss this book. Feel free to share this book review with anyone.

Stuart G. Walesh, Ph.D., P.E., Dist.M.ASCE, F.NSPE
Email: stuwalesh@comcast.net
Cell: 219-242-1704

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