( Monday, June 22, 2009 )

The Dumbest Generation

I read a book recently called "The Dumbest Generation" by Mark Bauerlein. It was essentially about the decline in reading among teenagers and young adults, and the subsequent decline in, well, smartness. It's been awhile since a single book made me feel so many different things: incredulity, fear (for teenagers specifically but also society in general), anger, conviction, guilt, and even inspiration.

He spends a lot of time talking about where exactly the shift away from books is moving/has moved -- towards visual media, the internet, social networking, and any number of related distractions. And one of the most interesting arguments is that these media, especially social networking among teenagers, creates what he calls "a generational cocoon," a sort of perpetual adolescence. They spend so much time invested in it that they lose connection with older generations, with a world that exists outside of and beyond themselves, and ultimately with what really matters. And, in the end, it stunts their growth. In his words: "the minds of the young plateau at 18" (pg. 10).

Yet while I was reading the book, I kept wondering about what it meant to Christianity. If it's true, as he suggests, that modern culture--and teenagers especially--are becoming so entrenched in a system of multitasking and noise, flashing images and brilliant, blinding distraction, to the point that sitting in silence and reading a book is aggravating and impossible -- well, what affect does that have on a faith that requires silence, that demands being quiet before God and listening, reading and studying?

He spends most of the end of the book discussing why, exactly, being "intelligent" actually matters, why spending time reading, being quiet, being able to follow a argument from Point A to Point B without getting lost in the middle has merit. And it was at that point that I really saw a connection to Christianity, to the need for thought and understanding as compliments--foundations--to faith. Even though the book is targeted towards society in general, there were a surprising number of moments where it was as if he were talking to the Church.

Here's one such example that I think more Christians need to take into consideration:

Insularity is unhealthy. It gives insiders false pictures of the world and overconfidence in their opinions. It consoles them on all sides with compliant reflection. But the comforts of belonging don't prepare them to leave the group, to enter the marketplace of ideas and defeat adversaries with the weapons of the intellect, not the devices of group standing, party membership, accreditation, and inside information. However intelligent they are, people who think and act within their niche avoid the irritating presence of ideological foes, but they also forgo one of the preconditions of learning: hearing the other side. Hearing them, that is, in earnest and positive versions, not through the lens of people who don't endorse them. They develop their own positions, tautly and intricately, but can't imagine others'. Again, in the words of John Stuart Mill: "They have never thrown themselves into the mental position of those who think differently from them." A paradoxical effect sets in. The more secure they feel, the more limited their horizons and the more parochial their outlook.

--Mark Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation, pg. 221-22


Anonymous Geoff Heith said...

Great post Kyle...I'm gonna go check facebook now...

12:01 PM  
Blogger the Stewart said...

Yeah, you should read it sometime.

Oh, wait. That's right. You can't read.

12:54 PM  
Blogger RuthieStewart said...

Ha ha ha. oh boy. you two!

No, this was really good. Thanks. I needed it actually.....

1:25 PM  

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