Drutman reviews The Dumbest Generation by Mark Bauerlein. The book’s thesis:
Increasingly disconnected from the “adult” world of tradition, culture, history, context and the ability to sit down for more than five minutes with a book, today’s digital generation is becoming insulated in its own stultifying cocoon of bad spelling, civic illiteracy and endless postings that hopelessly confuse triviality with transcendence.
The natural (and anticipated) response would indeed be to dismiss him as your archetypal cranky old professor who just can’t understand why “kids these days” don’t find Shakespeare as timeless as he always has. Such alarmism ignores the context and history he accuses the youth of lacking — the fact that mass ignorance and apathy have always been widespread in anti-intellectual America, especially among the youth. Maybe something is different this time. But, of course. Something is different every time.
Kassia Krozser comments:
So tired of Mark Bauerlein and his theories on how weâ€™re going to hell in a handbasket. Is it really such a shock that 15 to 24 year olds arenâ€™t doing a lot of pleasure reading in their free time?
Many of the tastes of adults are aquired: coffee, beer, wine, broccoli, Shakespeare, or PBS. But, it’s unlikely that anyone will acquire a taste for anything unless a forcing period is there to make it happen. That’s what freshman year of college does for us and beer!
It scares me how little reading most people do. Particularly young people. They have to be forced. They have always had to be forced. That isn’t the point. The point is, when did we stop forcing them?
In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.”
How would Socrates feel about the internet?