The essay is actually about the educational impact of the internet revolution on our next generation of students. And the research seems universally bad. The essayist builds off of Emory Professor Mark Bauerlein's new book, which features the catchy title The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future; or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30. The point is that, for all the noise about "the world at our fingertips" online, most students are talking about nothing on Facebook or playing games, and not looking at the collections of art museums on the other side of the world, or reading their way through libraries of world literature. I use the net for an awful lot of fun, too, but I'm also constantly using it as that research tool it's rumoured to be, and in awe of it, even after more than a decade of use.
While yes, this could sound like just another "older generation says the sky is falling and kids today are so much dumber than they used to be" story, it would be the sheer specificity and consensus of the research that seems most worrying (some of the reviews on Amazon challenge this, of course, but some of the terms of the challenges make me wonder), and I've had my own suspicions in seeing hints of this sort thing among my high school students. Back at Saint Joe, P.J. and I were appalled at the universal faith put into computer access by the state, which sent around some demands to us about using computers in our educational process, while we were much more concerned that the high school students grasped and applied the Principle of Non-Contradiction. And, of course, I wonder about the impact on my nieces and soon-to-be-born nephew, though my sister is being very conscious and cautious about the girls' computer use, as well as pro-active about their education and book reading at home. For some reason, the First Things website doesn't have the latest issue online and linked yet, so I can't link that here, but the whole 3-page text was striking.
Contrary to claims that computer use enhances functional literacy, Bauerlein cites research suggesting that screen time actually inhibits language acquisition by limiting exposure to complex or unfamiliar words. Even "software god" Bill Joy, cofounder of Sun Microsystems, dismisses the world of blogs and gaming as "encapsulated entertainment" – adding, "If I was competing with the United States, I would love to have the students I'm competing with spending their time on this kind of crap." So muxh for "digital intelligence," says Baurerlein, if even technophiles recognize time spent at this generation's idiot machines as largely wasted time.Apparently, I've been partially "saved by the bell" in not just being highly-educated by inclination but by the public access to the internet beginning when I was in grad school, when I consciously decided the summer of 1994 to go over to the computer lab at Hesburgh Library at Notre Dame and to teach myself "how to use the internet" so as to see if I could find my way into the NASA picture files of the Levy-Shumaker Comet. My free access to the internet came well after the need for parental oversight, and so I didn't have the opportunity to fail to develop complex reading habits in the way I see among students who try to write academic papers in the shorthand of Instant Message-speak.
And hmmm... as I glanced at my old AOL homepage to verify my links, I see that AOL is shutting those features down. Part of my life now qualifies as a digital museum-piece.