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The Big Answer


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The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30)

a book by Mark Bauerlein

(our site's book review)

Apparently, the Information Superhighway Leads to Dumbville

This shocking, surprisingly entertaining romp into the intellectual nether regions of today's underthirty set reveals the disturbing and, ultimately, incontrovertible truth: cyberculture is turning us into a society of know-nothings. The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30) is a dire report on the intellectual life of young adults and a timely warning of its impact on American democracy and culture.

For decades, concern has been brewing about the dumbed-down popular culture available to young people and the impact it has on their futures. But at the dawn of the digital age, many thought they saw an answer: the internet, email, blogs, and interactive and hyper-realistic video games promised to yield a generation of sharper, more aware, and intellectually sophisticated children. The terms “information superhighway” and “knowledge economy” entered the lexicon, and we assumed that teens would use their knowledge and understanding of technology to set themselves apart as the vanguards of this new digital era.

The Internet seems like it is ruining young brains
The Internet seems like it is ruining young brains

Our Young's Use of Tech Has Kept Them from Reaching Adulthood

That was the promise. But the enlightenment didn’t happen. The technology that was supposed to make young adults more aware, diversify their tastes, and improve their verbal skills has had the opposite effect. According to recent reports from the National Endowment for the Arts, most young people in the United States do not read literature, visit museums, or vote. They cannot explain basic scientific methods, recount basic American history, name their local political representatives, or locate Iraq or Israel on a map. The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30) is a startling examination of the intellectual life of young adults and a timely warning of its impact on American culture and democracy. See The Cyber Effect: An Expert in Cyberpsychology Explains How Technology Is Shaping Our Children, Our Behavior, and Our Values--and What We Can Do About It and The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.

The technology that was supposed to make young people more aware pushed them to, instead, put their heads in the sand, avoiding knowledge, learning, responsibility, and adulthood
The technology that was supposed to make young people more aware pushed them to, instead, put their heads in the sand, avoiding knowledge, learning, responsibility, and adulthood

Over the last few decades, how we view adolescence itself has changed, growing from a pitstop on the road to adulthood to its own space in society, wholly separate from adult life. This change in adolescent culture has gone hand in hand with an insidious infantilization of our culture at large; as adolescents continue to disengage from the adult world, they have built their own, acquiring more spending money, steering classrooms and culture towards their own needs and interests, and now using the technology once promoted as the greatest hope for their futures to indulge in diversions, from Facebook to multiplayer video games, 24/7.

Adolescents continue to bail out of the adult world—they have built their own Facebook-centered and texting-centered world
Adolescents continue to bail out of the adult world—they have built their own Facebook-centered and texting-centered world

Can a nation continue to enjoy political and economic predominance if its citizens refuse to grow up? Drawing upon exhaustive research, personal anecdotes, and historical and social analysis, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30) presents a portrait of the young American mind at this critical juncture, and lays out a compelling vision of how we might address its deficiencies. The book pulls no punches as it reveals the true cost of the digital age—and our last chance to fix it.

"It’s an irony so commonplace it’s become almost trite: despite the information superhighway, despite a world of knowledge at their fingertips, the younger generation today is less informed, less literate, and more self-absorbed than any that has preceded it. It wouldn't be going too far to call this book the Why Johnny Can't Read for the digital age."—Booklist


All That Potential to Learn Via the Internet Is Being Squandered by the Young

"If you're the parent of someone under 20 and read only one non-fiction book this fall, make it this one. Bauerlein's simple but jarring thesis is that technology and the digital culture it has created are not broadening the horizon of the younger generation; they are narrowing it to a self-absorbed social universe that blocks out virtually everything else."—Don Campbell, USA Today

Notice there are no people in this library; the young are on Facebook or YouTube or playing videogames while older adults are learning and reading mostly on the Internet
Notice there are no people in this library; the young are on Facebook or YouTube or playing videogames while older adults are learning and reading mostly on the Internet

"An urgent and pragmatic book on the very dark topic of the virtual end of reading among the young."—Harold Bloom

"Never have American students had it so easy, and never have they achieved less. . . . Mr. Bauerlein delivers this bad news in a surprisingly brisk and engaging fashion, blowing holes in a lot of conventional educational wisdom."—Charles McGrath, The New York Times

"Throughout The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30), there are . . . keen insights into how the new digital world really is changing the way young people engage with information and the obstacles they face in integrating any of it meaningfully. These are insights that educators, parents, and other adults ignore at their peril."—Lee Drutman, Los Angeles Times


This Democracy Is Likely to Turn into an 'Idiocracy' within a Mere Generation

This democracy is likely to turn into an 'idiocracy' within a mere generation
This democracy is likely to turn into an 'idiocracy' within a mere generation

This book describes the inevitable decline of literacy, judgement, language skills, historical perspectives, civilized discourse, and civilization in general as a result of the almost universal reliance by young people on peer-to-peer information sharing for 'facts' and opinions, and their deliberate ignorance of academics, history, literature, logic. The take-away is that this democracy is likely to turn into an 'idiocracy' within a mere generation. Let's practice, now—can you say "duuuuuh"?

"The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise." [Things sure haven't changed much!]—Socrates, 469-399 B.C.

Socrates, 469-399 B.C., bitched about the kids too, just like Bauerlein
Socrates, 469-399 B.C., bitched about the kids too, just like Bauerlein

Narcissistic Personality Disorder Is Seriously on the Rise

U.S. students are not prepared for college, civic responsibilities, critical thinking, problem-solving skills or life. At their disposal are a series of digital screens and other communication devices which exacerbate their ignorance and enable the young to perpetuate their narcissistic adolescence by focusing their attention on the recent, the ephemeral and the personal. The adolescent has always been self-absorbed, but society saw adolescence as an awkward way station on the way to adulthood, not a permanent way of life. However, the author's tone throughout the work is very snobby and elitist. He is very patronizing and degrading to the under-30 crowd. He is quick to criticize, but he falls short in offering any real, pragmatic solutions. Note: A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in 2008 (Stinson, et al.) found that the prevalence of Narcissistic Personality Disorder was 6.2% in the general population—a large increase from years past.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder is on the rise—it's over 6% of the general population
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is on the rise—it's over 6% of the general population (guess where Trump fits in here?)

"Although I may not agree with every contention/conclusion in Bauerlin's book, he has certainly made some astute observations. I do agree with him that many young people are almost entirely cut off from concrete reality. They can live their 'lives' virtually in so many ways. And we as a society have no past data to indicate what might happen to a generation that eschews face-to-face interaction. We can already see the problems that come from kids ingesting only their self-generated content online to the exclusion of great books written by great minds from the past. [See Why Do We Need Communities?.]

As an information professional, I love the access the internet provides to all sorts of information, past and present. While the information is available, however, most people will not seek it out if they can exist solely on social content curated by their peers. We must make conscious efforts to transmit our culture to the next generation, or it will die. Mark Bauerlin has sounded the wake-up call." (Source: Food for Thought, Kschimmelwriter, Amazon reviewer)

People enjoy so many mechanisms of pleasure that they adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think
People enjoy so many mechanisms of pleasure that they adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think

". . . people enjoy so many mechanisms of pleasure that they adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think."—Aldous Huxley's Brave New World

TV is the monster that sucks the brains from our skulls, leaving our population vulnerable, naive, stupified, paralyzed, and ignorant
TV is the monster that sucks the brains from our skulls, leaving our population vulnerable, naive, stupified, paralyzed, and ignorant

The book has some extremely eye-opening evidence that over-hyped and over-sold claims about the "educational benefits of digital technology" are more marketing rhetoric than empirically-verified reality. Much of the evidence in this book shows that technology impedes education and maturity as much or more than it promotes it. Any teacher who has watched kids choose texting over learning knows this to be true. While the web surely creates a humongous, ginormous library of knowledge for us to learn from, most of our young are into the cybersocialization aspects of this marvelous opportunity, and the learning potentials somehow fail to impress them.


Our Young Are Smartphone Zombies

Smartphone Zombies
The young are Smartphone Zombies (at least they aren't growling or drooling) wrapped in a digital cocoon of texting and games and videos and chats—but what happened to reality?

"You can now tailor your entertainment and news to get only what you want and nothing that you don't. From a logical and a practical perspective, this almost certainly guarantees the increasing insularity of an individual's viewpoints. They can wrap themselves in a digital cocoon (24/7) of their own values and never have to hear or encounter a dissenting word. This is, as Bauerlein implies, very dangerous, and he includes a number of representative quotes from young persons which shows (quite startlingly) how unapologetic a new generation is becoming about silencing every viewpoint but their own. Hence, I think, the rapid spread of conspiracy theories and radical politics into the popular sphere, views that once were marginal and relatively unappealing to the masses now are becoming surprisingly 'popular' while more responsibly reasoned views get silenced because they lack the hype and appeal of the loud, irresponsible voices that now dominate the Internet and politics in general. . . . Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists have been replaced at some major news outlets by teenagers who are more savvy at blogging and working up hits from site visitors." (Source: Mildly alarmist, but chock full of important observations, Candid Reviewer, Amazon reviewer)

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists have been replaced at some major news outlets by teenagers who are more savvy at blogging and working up hits from site visitors
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists have been replaced at some major news outlets by teenagers who are more savvy at blogging and working up hits from site visitors

The 2016 Election Underlined the Dangers of Using the Internet to Manipulate the Uneducated

We saw these radical political stances prevail as responsibly reasoned views got silenced in the 2016 election. Trump knew how to curry favor with the uneducated, the biased, the frustrated, the nationalists, and the racists, and he used reality show tactics that made a mockery of the proceedings, getting the media's eyes on himself constantly, and yet there were tens of millions of people who were delighted with his antics, so he was elected, aided by an avalanche of fake news, hit pieces, Hillary's mistakes, and the general populist appeal of sticking it to the establishment with which most voters were increasingly disenchanted. A vote for Trump was a raised middle finger to the establishment.

So Trump being a crude, unqualified, sexist, misogynistic, demagogic narcissist was to them a plus, not a minus. Hillary meant more of the same—Obama 2.0 in a skirt, as it were. And there was a tsunami of disappointment with Obama and his politically correct, liberal over-catering to the Black Lives Matter folks, making many whites feel like he'd gone too far and the new intolerance and bias toward whites Obama exhibited and Al Sharpton exploited many found hard to stomach. Trump saw this and he wasted no time in exploiting the situation. Hillary did little to acknowledge these legitimate feelings in the polity, shooting herself in the foot as she unsuccessfully attempted to peddle business as usual.

Obama overdid the Black Lives Matter stuff, and Hillary planned to keep up this disguised slam on whites as racist scum—not a smart move
Obama overdid the Black Lives Matter stuff, and Hillary planned to keep up this disguised slam on whites as racist scum—not a smart move


Hillary did little to acknowledge these legitimate anti-Obama, anti-political-correctness, and anti-establishment feelings in the polity, shooting herself in the foot as she unsuccessfully attempted to peddle business as usual in the election
Hillary did little to acknowledge these legitimate anti-Obama, anti-political-correctness, and anti-establishment feelings in the polity, shooting herself in the foot as she unsuccessfully attempted to peddle business as usual in the election

Only Folks Aged 55 and Above Use the Internet to Learn

Bauerlein tells us that the only age group who consistently uses the Internet to learn, as opposed to avoiding the discomfort of encountering information that they don't already understand or know, are folks aged 55 and above, which is 90 million people or 28% of the population—so 72% do not consistently use the Internet to learn. So the Internet is not a force for democracy but for polarization, divisiveness, bias magnification and prejudice. (And of course consumption, entertainment, porn, crime, and hate.)

Trust no one under 30 since they are squandering their educational and employment opportunities for TV, smartphones, and Internet
Trust no one under 30 since they are squandering their educational and employment opportunities for TV, smartphones, and Internet (they know nothing but believe they know everything—a dangerous combination which Trump shares with these young people)

In the Sixties our slogan was "don't trust anyone over 30," but half a century later we are asked to trust no one under 30 since they are squandering their educational and employment opportunities in favor of texting obsessions, Facebook obsessions, and YouTube obsessions, and are therefore taking a whole generation of young people into the trash bin—which will lead to the U.S. circling the drain.

Our young's texting obsessions, Facebook obsessions, and YouTube obsessions are taking a whole generation of young people into the trash bin—which will lead to the U.S. circling the drain
Our young's texting obsessions, Facebook obsessions, and YouTube obsessions are taking a whole generation of young people into the trash bin—which will lead to the U.S. circling the drain

Our Young Are in a Social Networking Fantasy World

Our young are using tech for social networking, which tends to keep them in a fantasy state of eternal adolescence and away from the very knowledge and skills that would help them successfully enter the adult world. Author Bauerlein's polemic about how cyberculture is molding us into a culture of immature, narcissistic dunderheads is sadly true.

Our young are using tech for social networking, which tends to keep them in a fantasy state of eternal adolescence and away from the very knowledge and skills that would help them successfully enter the adult world
Our young are using tech for social networking, which tends to keep them in a fantasy state of eternal adolescence and away from the very knowledge and skills that would help them successfully enter the adult world


Bauerlein's polemic about how cyberculture is molding us into a nation of immature, narcissistic dunderheads is sadly true
Bauerlein's polemic about how cyberculture is molding us into a nation of immature, narcissistic dunderheads is sadly true

Hypertexting and Hypernetworking in High School is Killing Student Performance

"Andreas Schleicher, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) director of education and skills, said during a webinar on Monday, that U.S. students’ levels of proficiency appear to decline as kids advance to higher grades, contrary to the trend in many higher-performing countries. . . . Results were lower in math in 2015 compared with 2012, placing the U.S. near the bottom of 35 industrialized nations. Singapore was the top performer in all three subject areas." Source: How Do American Students Compare to Their International Peers? The most recent math results from an international survey place the United States near the bottom, Emily Richmond, The Atlantic)

U.S. students’ levels of proficiency appear to decline as kids advance to higher grades, contrary to the trend in many higher-performing countries
U.S. students’ levels of proficiency appear to decline as kids advance to higher grades, contrary to the trend in many higher-performing countries (high schoolers are the peak age for texting and Facebook obsessions)

It's no secret that U.S. students are horrible at geography and have been for some time, says U.S. News. "But on the measure of social engagement, the United States topped China, Korea, and Japan," says Slate. They continue: "In America, high school is for socializing. It’s a convenient gathering place, where the really important activities are interrupted by all those annoying classes. For all but the very best American students—the ones in AP classes bound for the nation’s most selective colleges and universities—high school is tedious and unchallenging. . . . American high school students spend far less time on schoolwork than their counterparts in the rest of the world."

The profits of digital device sellers like Apple and Google are seen as more important than the welfare of students or U.S. democracy; when corporatocracy prevails, democracy fails
The profits of digital device sellers like Apple and Google are seen as more important than the welfare of students or U.S. democracy; when corporatocracy prevails, democracy fails

Bauerlein Believes That as Student Performance Declines, Democracy Will Decline Right Along with It

Bauerlein believes that the seductiveness of pop culture and the allure of screen imagery distracts and impedes study, convincingly demonstrating that student proficiencies in critical disciplines such as civics, math, science and engineering have descended to abysmal levels. Bauerlein contends that ignorance across a range of subjects has stifled critical thinking skills and this ignorance threatens to shut down the pipeline of young intellectuals who may be capable of the kind of thoughtful discourse and critical thinking that is required to maintain and retain a healthy democracy. See Democracy—an American Delusion.

If meaningful participation in the civic and political process is based on a certain degree of cultural literacy, and if the literacy of the up and coming "millennial" generation is declining, the future is foreboding and democracy is headed for a fall. John Stuart Mill clearly foresaw the danger to democracy of an electorate increasingly out of touch with the information it needs to make informed, reflective decisions. With 19% of young students unable to read, U.S. democracy is in trouble. Enter Donald Trump—to save us? Not so much. Note: 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read. That’s 14 percent of the population. 21 percent of adults in the U.S. read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates can’t read. Quick, let's raise teacher salaries so they get rich from failure (we say, sarcastically)!


Ignorance Has Led to Electing Trump

"The book's ultimate doomsday scenario—of a dull and self-absorbed new generation of citizens falling prey to demagoguery and brazen power grabs—seems at once overblown (witness, for example, this election season's youth reengagement in politics) and also yesterday's news (haven't we always been perilously close to this, if not already suffering from it?). But amid the sometimes annoyingly frantic warning bells that ding throughout The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30), there are also some keen insights into how the new digital world really is changing the way young people engage with information and the obstacles they face in integrating any of it meaningfully." (Source: 'The Dumbest Generation' by Mark Bauerlein, Lee Drutman, LA Times)

Trying to avoid falling prey to demagoguery and brazen power grabs in 2017 is just closing the barn door after the horse has escaped
Trying to avoid falling prey to demagoguery and brazen power grabs in 2017 is just closing the barn door after the horse has escaped

Trump is president and demagoguery is something that we HAVE fallen prey to, not that we "may" fall prey to in the future—how do you think he got elected? Trying to avoid falling prey to demagoguery and brazen power grabs in 2017 is just closing the barn door after the horse has escaped.

You will respect my authoritah!
You will respect my authoritah!

Bauerlein argues, “Time and again, the statistics reveal that we are facing a very real intellectual crisis: not only is the current generation drastically uninformed about basic scientific, political and historical facts, they are ill-equipped for successful careers and unprepared to contribute to society as a whole.” This seems to be generally true.


Neither the Under-30 nor the Over-30 Are Doing All That Great

Younger people are the cannon fodder that older people convince to fight their damnably foolish wars
Younger people are the cannon fodder that older people convince to fight their damnably foolish wars

But he seems to think the adults over 30 are doing better than youth 30 or below. If we look at the incredible stupidity of Dubya's and Obama's Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, all the lives wasted and the trillions of dollars spent for nothing but a bogus, fake war on terror (the terror the U.S. generated by their Middle East interference), we can see that older adults—if we can judge by their actions or failure to protest against idiotic actions—are the ones acting dumb, and younger people are the cannon fodder these older people convince to fight their damnably foolish wars. We could say the neocon crazies, not the polity, did all the war stuff. But the polity are the losers that voted for Bush, Obama, and Trump. So since the under-30 and the over-30 are both screwing the pooch (as they say in the military), we can generalize that no one is doing all that great.

The empire building imperialistic neocons believe that might makes right, and yet they inevitably end up proving that might makes stupid. One thing for sure: if the Cheneys and Dubyas and OBomb'ems and Trumps that started or continued these tragedies had to go fight in them, they'd have never invaded these countries in the first place. Just like investment bankers advise using OPM (other people's money) in ventures, the Cheneys and Dubyas and OBomb'ems and Trumps are happy to support warmongering as long as it involves OPL (other people's lives).

The empire building imperialistic neocons believe that Might Makes Right, and yet they inevitably end up proving that Might Makes Stupid
The empire building imperialistic neocons believe that Might Makes Right, and yet they inevitably end up proving that Might Makes Stupid

The book brings up a lot of good points. The young know nothing about history and those who won't or can't learn from history are doomed to repeat it, to paraphrase George Santayana. Are we making the mistake Germany made in letting a demagogue lead them? Time will tell. See Fake News: How Propaganda Influenced the 2016 Election, A Historical Comparison to 1930's Germany by Kelly Carey.

Are we making the mistake Germany made in letting a demagogue lead them?
Are we making the mistake Germany made in letting a demagogue lead them?

Other "Effects of Media and Internet" Books