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Last summer, The Atlantic magazine asked its readers, "Is Google making us stupid?"
It's an intriguing question—and a terrifying one. And if you are Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University, the answer is a resounding "Yes!"
Bauerlein's sensationally titled book,The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30), challenges the conventional wisdom about "e-literacy" and the (supposedly) beneficial effects of digital culture. Along the way, Bauerlein tosses off worthy aperçus about the role of technology in classrooms, adolescent development (and comportment), American leisure time, and modern intellectual life.
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Regrettably, Bauerlein's better points are blunted by his reluctance to apply his observations to anyone over 30. He also romanticizes the intellectualism of previous eras and takes a histrionic, sky-is-falling approach to much of the material—democracy itself is at stake!
Full disclosure: I belong to Bauerlein's much-maligned "Millennial" generation—which he defines as those born from 1980 to 2000—but I am hardly what he terms a "digital native." I did not grow up with a cell phone or the Internet, nor did my family own a computer until I was in eighth grade. I am therefore sympathetic to certain of Bauerlein's concerns:
- That the round-the-clock invasion of a teen's day by social-media devices—cell phones, personal computers, and their ilk—has all but obliterated the sanctuary once enshrined in the family dinner hour.
- That certain technology hyped in schools (a laptop for every student, for instance) may not be as beneficial as more traditional educational investments.
- That the nature and speed of reading and writing on the Web may discourage long-form reading and critical-thinking skills.