Everyone should read this long, terrifying article that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times. The article explores the use and impact of new “interactive” media on the minds and habits of today’s adolescents. While attempting to be “fair and balanced,” the picture they paint about our future is downright scary.

Here’s a money quote by one of the teenagers who was interviewed: “I know I can read a book, but then I’m up and checking Facebook,” he says, adding: “Facebook is amazing because it feels like you’re doing something and you’re not doing anything. It’s the absence of doing something, but you feel gratified anyway.”

And, here’s the summary response of a Harvard researcher whose findings indicate that young minds are today being wired with an inability to concentrate and decreasing abilities to learn: “The headline is: bring back boredom.”

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  1. We are nonchalantly hard-wiring Gen Z to expect – and demand – immediate gratification. We’re short-circuiting their ability to concentrate, be patient, have tolerance by feeding into children’s nature inclination for immediacy.

    I’m not sure that we’ve necessarily diminished children’s ability to think or learn, but we’ve certainly cheated them out of the need or desire to do so. Parents have a innate desire (some would say, responsibility) to ensure that their kids will have a better life – but they’re confusing “better” with “easier” and that’s anything but true.

    Like you, I believe that boredom is a constructive thing. Boredom breeds creativity. Entertainment stifles it.

    It just amazes me that the mindset of “technology has to be good for kids, so let’s shovel it at them” has become a societal norm without even so much as a shred of solid evidence that technology does boost academic achievement or enhance overall quality of life.


  2. Patrick, you’ve ruined my day. I’m not angry with you or anything, but that article was far longer and more depressing read than I expected despite your warning. Next time you use the word, “terrifying” I’ll know exactly what you mean.

  3. So what’s with the facebook bar over there on the right? I know there’s already been a discussion on the irony of encouraging real community on the internet but lines do need to be drawn somewhere, don’t they? I read FPR regularly but I do not “like” the facebook bar there.

    • Matt,
      Believe me, the irony (hypocrisy?) of being an internet site is not lost on any of us. I guess it’s the view of some that if we’re sullied already, we should willing to use the technology for good ends – including (it seems) Facebook. I guess one needs to go where the people “are.” That said, I’m not fond of the Facebook bar either, nor of all the buttons here for Twitter, etc.

      All that said, we have generally avoided trying to adopt ourselves to the instant-gratification orientation and resultant attention-span of the new media. We try to offer substantive articles that take time and thought to complete. So, we’re trying to “use” the medium in ways that cut against the grain of much of its trajectory. I think that’s generally to the good.

      • Professor Deneen,

        Thanks for responding. I am obviously sullied myself but I think there’s still an important distinction between facebook and a blog like FPR. FPR and other blogs have demonstrated that a blog can be used for good ends but I am much less impressed with the good ends that I’ve seen facebook put to. Twitter’s good ends appear worse, such as having kids at youth groups tweet their responses during a message.

        I’ll add that I’m a high school teacher and I enjoy prodding my students about their facebook use. I have used FPR articles to start such discussions, so when FPR added a facebook element it made it a little harder for me to sound like there are other people out there like me that can survive without facebook.

  4. I refuse to own a cell phone or sign up for a facebook account. I’m no luddite but I really don’t see the point of most of the primitive gadgets our stupid culture think is needed technology.

    Technology should be about helping humanity do better work not ignoring it altogether. America has lost it’s work culture and I really think we need to get it.

    We have a lot people being busybodies running around trying to make ends meets but we have really touch with the idea of starting with few material and transforming into something useful and beautiful. We used to build great projects where a father could show is son something like Golden Gate Bridge and say “son I was a part of that” and have a rightful sense of pride about doing something.

    I’ve been thinking recently about how a lot of so “conservatives” these days attack “big projects”
    as Keynesian economics and bad for capitalism but that got me thinking about ancient Egypt.

    The whole ancient Egypt was characterize by building something essentially worthless in modern terms in what some call “acts of excessive remembrance” but nevertheless the it was remarkably stable society. All of those works where done a public expense were literally “hole digging” but keep that system going for over 3000 years.

    Perhaps we need someway of reintroducing “acts of remembrance” into our national work and even our technology just because it makes us a little more human.

  5. Hey Professor, thanks for the link. Mr. Fox and Mr. Mitchell hit a similar stride with their briefs on Carr’s The Shallows. But I think the article bears a closer reading – i.e., ““The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.””

    Different is not the same as idiotic. I generally agree with what you all have said about this subject, but I also am wondering if there is not something else going on. Reading and writing are fundamental, as they say – we read to learn to write, we write to learn to think constructively and effectively. But what happens after letters and articles evolve into power point presentations? or are you using prezi now?

    “The same tension surfaces in Vishal, whose ability to be distracted by computers is rivaled by his proficiency with them….(he) taught himself to use sophisticated editing software in part by watching tutorials on YouTube. He does not leave his chair for more than two hours…he is focused in a way he rarely is when doing homework.”

    Again, I’m not arguing for the shallows, but isn’t this just the Montessori curriculum? What’s a kid going to do these days – get a job at a newspaper? There was also this: “two things changed around the seventh grade: his mother went back to work, and he got a computer….when adults were not supervising computer use, children “are left to their own devices, and the impetus isn’t to do homework but play around.” ” I mean, kids goofing off is an eternal problem.

    Their environment is different than ours, and the skills they will need are different. And they are, apparently, being wired differently. The more I think about this – and I believe the posts on Carr were some time ago – the more I think that it’s important to really try to understand it.
    I enjoy reading the Foxfire books, and by those standards just about everyone I know is a helpless idiot. But that type of thinking is not used much these days – you know, not being able to make a loom isn’t that important. Which begs the question, what is? Is it a way of thinking or the content of thought?

  6. Jesus, we’re creating a nation of morons. Weaver’s “moral idiots” have nothing on a generation of people with 3-second attention spans. You thought it was hard defending the permanent things before…

  7. I am a school teacher, at a high school down south. I am 45 years old, and was raised in the now bygone “print” era. As a product of newspapers, books, and plain old broadcast-network-tv, I have learned how to sit still and deal with either a difficult article, or argument, or even stupid television show. I am certainly no genius (as my abysmal LSAT score demonstrates), but I do know how to think. My high school students do not know how to “think” in the same linear, a to b to c manner that I do. Hence, it feels as if I am attempting to teach organisms who look just like I do, but who are actually of a different species. If my students cannot find an immediate personal stake in the subject matter, I simply can’t get through to them. They really do process information differently than the kids of 1983 (the year I graduated from H.S.). I still have not figured out the magic formula for capturing their attention, and I’ve been doing this for six years. I would like to be able to say that if you just make your kids read and write, and not play video games or surf the internet, then they will somehow be “more intelligent’ than the herd. But the problem is that ten years from now “herd intelligence’ may be the only kind that matters. Perhaps your 18 year old daughter who loves Jane Austen novels and communicates in complete sentences will be so freakish that nobody will even know what to do with her. We really are watching technology create a new type of human being, and it’s scary because we don’t know exactly what that new type will look like.

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