The Dumbest generation
Last week, I read the book “The Dumbest Generation” written by Mark Bauerlein and I was shocked by the impact of technology on many people, especially young people today. In this book, the author reveals disturbing and uncomfortable facts that technology is turning young people into the “dumbest generation ever in history”. He wrote: “Young people today are only interested in themselves. What do 15-or 18 year-olds care about? They care about what all the other 15- or 18 year-olds are doing, and anything that puts them in touch with one another…” And when it comes to the important news, they think “Who cares about something happen far away in England or Africa when they can talk about what happened at their party last weekend?” When their parents ask their children to study, he wrote: “many would go to their room, open facebook and start chatting with others.”
The author lamented that “The digital age has changed something fundamental about the family structure, and the result is that young people are less closely under the guidance of adults than ever before. Now they can ignore their parents all the way through adolescence, and this has never happened before in human history. If left unchecked, these developments could result in a “new dark age of ignorance.” He warned the parents: “Change must come from parents and teachers, Parents have to learn to be more vigilant…. It is amazing how many parents do not even know their children have a Facebook account or other social media accounts. They do not know how intense the social media environment is for a 13-year-old….”
Bauerlein shared one of his advice to a college student: “I talk to 18-year-old boys who do not read much and I say, ‘You’re in college and just met the girl of your dreams. She takes you home to meet her parents. Over the dinner table, her father says something about Ronald Reagan, and you do not even know who he was. Guess what? You just went down in their opinion and probably in your girlfriend’s view as well. Is that what you want?”
Even Bauerlein focus mostly on young American, it could also be a dire-warning to young people from other countries as well. According to a global study from the Pew Research Center, today fewer college students Read books and most people age 18-34 are less knowledgeable about the current event than the previous generation. The study found that all over the world, most young people are only reading Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, WeChat, and other social media that keep them from reading and learning anything meaningful but mostly unnecessary and unworthy things.
As a technology professor, I also notice that many students do not know much about current events. Of course, they have to read textbooks and learn about technology but besides this area, they do not know much about other things. One of the goals of education is to help students develop the ability to think on their own. Independent thinking is the character of a person to make a judgment over the information whether it is true or reasonable. By not reading much, by ignore all the information around them but only focus on a small domain, students will not be able to think independently and easy to accept whatever they are taught and rarely question the information if it makes sense or not. Independent thinking is an important soft-skills, especially in teamwork where they share ideas that differ from others and sometimes require a clear explanation. Without the ability to understand and express their thinking, students will be forced to follow someone or something which will impede their progress.
A senior manager once told me: “One of my favorite questions during the interview is: “Tell me about the books that you read in the past three months.” And many candidates failed to name even one. He lamented: “If I ask them about algorithms, platforms, or coding languages they probably can talk for an hour. As college students, how come they do not know anything about the world that they are living in?” When I told my students about this, many told me that they do not have time to read but when I ask them about who says what in Facebook or Twitter today, they probably can recite even their quote.
Reading is a habit that must be developed early when children are young. Without helping them to start reading and love to read on a regular basis, even just a few minutes or half an hour a day, they may miss a lot in their lives. As parents, even if you do not enjoy reading books for yourself, why not read a story to your child? You are giving them a great gift, which will prepare them for school, for life, and also build a relationship with you. Knowledge is precious and should not be wasted.
- Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University