October 21, 2008

The Dumbest Generation Is Only The Second Dumbest Generation

You know that 17 year old kid who thinks Obama is Muslim and Europe is a country and any girl that doesn't sleep with him is a slut?  I found someone dumber than him.  Wasn't hard, either.

The Atlantic asks, Is Google Making Us Stupid?  Just asking: could the real culprit be The Atlantic?

Nicholas Carr says Google is, because along with the massiveness of the available information comes an avoidance-- or simply lack of time-- for contemplation and concentration.  Or, to borrow a metaphor (I can't remember who said it) such knowledge is a "mile wide and an inch deep."  Oh, Artemus Ward said it about the Platte River.  Thanks Google, I feel smarter.

Carr also finds he is less able to read deeply, to concentrate; and he can't read novels anymore.  It's changed not just what he knows, but how he thinks.  He thinks in internet-style.

I'll generalize: it has changed how most people think.


The effect on medicine is noted by Carr, and by me: doctors almost never read an entire article, and rarely even abstracts.  Title, keywords, or title/keywords of shorter summaries written by someone else.

In Science appears Electronic Publication and the Narrowing of Science and Scholarship, in which a now not surprising finding is revealed: the more articles are available online, the less they are read.  It also shifts the age of the cited articles up to the past ten months.  Recent reviews get read; original studies don't, even to verify the claims.  Anything in science that's not "hot" now won't even get read.   It's groupthink reinforced by a research diameter of 2 years. 

Electronic subscriptions means even less awareness of the contents.  At least when you got the print journal, you flipped through it.

If you want to know why doctors seem always to be hashing the same ground, it's because they are.


As I've noted elsewhere, there are two important effects:

1. As Socrates said, people become "filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom" (e.g. Artemus Ward?)
2. you really only know what someone else wants you to know

But there's an another effect, and it has to do with the medium.

Nicholas Carr writes that Nietzsche (title of this blog, BTW) stopped writing because of eyestrain-- until he bought a typewriter and learned to touch type with his eyes closed.   His style changed; his already tight prose got tighter.  Nietzsche himself noted it, and quickly gave up on it;  and, according to Carr, a later scholar observed that the writing "changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style."

Anyone who writes for a living understands this; Neal Stephenson (Anathem) writes with a fountain pen; I can only write on a computer.  But-- and you should try this-- using any other medium makes one think differently.  I have used this technique to generate new ideas; my post on The Wrong Lessons of Iraq and the other on We Are All Mercantilists Now were both generated on my Blackberry.  It felt immediate, important, urgent, political.  I could never have written the Wanted humor piece that way.  I couldn't have even conceived it.  It was part me, part Movable Type.

So the internet allows the delusion that you know things that you really don't; the mistake that the thoughts you do have are your own, and not someone else's; and then changes the way you think, reinforcing this style of thinking.


Enter Mark Bauerlein's The Dumbest Generation: How The Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (or Don't Trust Anyone Under 30).  Bottom line: kids today have (access to) lots of information, but no wisdom.  And, rather than the internet bringing diverse people together, it seems to foster tribes of the like-minded, who never closely examine anything different(ly). 

We don't know much, and we stick to those who who are like us, who provide our much needed affirmation.    If that's not a recipe for narcissism, I don't know what is.


Sounds much like the book by former assistant secretary of education Charles Finn, with Diane Ravitch, What Do Our 17 Year Olds Know?  You can guess the answer.  8000 seventeen year olds: half thought he book 1984 is about the end of the human race in a nuclear war; 35% didn't know Watergate was after 1950.  30% didn't know Aesop wrote fables.  They thought Jim Crow laws were good for blacks.  Etc.
Except it isn't all their fault.  Kids are only as dumb as they're allowed to be.  Here's an example: introductory "survey" courses in state colleges are universally accepted to be a joke.   But why not simply change that?  You can still keep the grade inflation and "everyone passes" ideology; but why not just have a professor who cares with rigorous content?  Well, because he doesn't care, and the school doesn't care.  They have other things to worry about then oversexed freshmen.  So how can you blame students for not knowing anything?  The college does not even allow them an opportunity for knowledge that they could lazily opt out of.  The system offers only no knowledge.


"Kids today" may be the Dumbest Generation, but the parents and teachers of the Dumbest Generation are themselves so dumb they not only don't know the information themselves, they don't even know what knowledge exists that is important to pass on. 

And I can prove it
: the above book What Do Our 17 Year Olds Know? was written in 1987.   Those dumb 17 year olds are 40 now.   Say what you want about the "elitist" conclusions of The Closing of the American Mind  but it was also written in 1987, about 1987 college kids-- who are now adults.

The adults are dumb, all right; but they don't know it.  They have a unsettling feeling that something is lacking.  The general narcissism and insecurity of parents today-- even/especially the "good" parents, is visible in their parenting.  At a birthday party, the kids are running Lord of The Flies while their parents completely ignore them, socializing; meanwhile, they hover over them at the store, at the playground-- "no bicycle without a helmet."  They secretly read their kid's email and Facebook accounts,  but have never once read the kid's math book.  "Oh, ha ha, I don't remember all that math!"  Idiot, could you at least pretend it's important?

If you do your kid's math homework with them every night, I swear to you that you won't need to worry about Facebook.  I will concede that monitoring their Facebook is easier.

Many professional parents and teachers I know fall back on empty words-- "classical education" or "the use of primary texts" but they don't know what those terms mean.  They nod respectfully at Aeschylus, but they don't have the first clue whether he fought for the Greeks or the Trojans.   You think these parents and teachers are going to know to tell the  kids to read Werner Jaeger?   They're not.  They're going to buy them a Leapster.


Simply put: adults today don't know what's important to know.  So they make things up to care about. 

No one won the culture wars; we forgot who the enemy was.  In 1987, when Allan Bloom or William Ayers argued for or against a "classical" education, they were arguing its importance, not the definition.  Now?  That's why there is so much noise about school vouchers for private schools-- it's a proxy for the culture war without having to know exactly what you're fighting for. There is a vague feeling that private schools are "better," that the surrounding students are "better," that it is more "rigorous," without really knowing what they are pushing towards or away from.  It is also evident that it is a fall back; it makes up for their own shortcomings.  Secretly: "Hopefully a good school will teach them better than I can."  Well, you'd be right on that point, anyway.

I'm not advocating a "return to the classics" (I'm not not advocating it either), but I am observing that the Dumbest Generation of Narcissists In The History of The World is not even remotely conscious of their ignorance or their narcissism, and the technology lets them get away with it-- they actually think they think they know, they actually believe they have chosen what they think is important.  And they are now parents and teachers and doctors and leaders.  As far as I can tell, this simultaneous conjunction of ignorance and unconsciousness has never happened before in history. 

I have every hope and faith in the youth of today, because otherwise we are doomed. 

"Don't trust anyone over 30" turns out, after all, to be very sound advice.


Diggs, Reddits, and donations are all appreciated.


I was over at a client's ho... (Below threshold)

October 21, 2008 6:51 PM | Posted by Fargo: | Reply

I was over at a client's house, fixing their computer and answering questions, when she starts asking about ways to track where her son goes online. Your post here brings this memory back in stark detail.

Now, I understand people have some concerns, but it was very obvious that she just wanted to be able to confront her 17ish year old son about the wanking websites he may or may not be visiting. The look of expectant joy in her eyes as she queried me about "the next level" of tracking what web pages he was going to made me more than a little uncomfortable, and more than a little like physically striking her.

Instead I just told her no, c'est impossible. You know, that old fallback of lying, or at least evasion by lack of effort.

As for the majority of your article, the interwebs shallowing the knowledge pool, I can't help but feel that this is likely just the case. I became an adult more or less alongside the internet, but it was nothing like what it is now. I can't even begin to imagine actually growing up with the internet as it currently is, coupled to families and education as they stand. The optimist in me argues that it's just a temporary fugue while the systems adjust, while teaching at all levels changes tack. The pessimist in me just wishes it could accelerate the process so that the post-humans can learn about fire and space travel before Jupiter forms a second sun.

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Fight the power! I'd do mor... (Below threshold)

October 21, 2008 7:40 PM | Posted by Anonymous Anarchist: | Reply

Fight the power! I'd do more than refuse, I'd leave detailed ass-covering instructions for her son on the off chance she figures it out for her self--Safari private browsing, FireFox auto-privacy cleanup, etc. Maybe even Tor. Thwarting people like her is its own reward.

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I thought that was Wittgens... (Below threshold)

October 21, 2008 8:57 PM | Posted by demodenise: | Reply

I thought that was Wittgenstein, not Nietzsche?

The late eighties was also when Hirsch was publishing about cultural literacy and the idea that a large part of the ability to communicate ideas effectively is both the speaker (writer, blogger, etc.)and listener/reader having a shared cultural context in which to interpret the communication.

Our cultural context is changing, and it's happening so fast that we're having a hard time keeping up: Shakespearean verse is being replaced with LOLspeak, fables and myths with internet memes.

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"mile wide and an inch d... (Below threshold)

October 21, 2008 10:22 PM | Posted by marcia: | Reply

"mile wide and an inch deep." Oh, Artemus Ward said it about the Platte River."

I thought I recalled a member of Bill Clinton's staff saying that about him, too. So I tried to Google the source and discovered a lot of people have used the expression in reference to an assortment of politicians, in many different contexts and with widely varied interpretations of meaning.

The top three search pages were all from popular culture (and I wasn't ambitious enough to look farther). No wonder we're getting stupid.

This reminds me of the story Oldest Daughter told about a woman passing out anti-Obama pamphlets at a McCain rally this past weekend. The entire content was a direct reprint from Wikipedia. When the students challenged the validity of her reference, she started screaming: "But it's all true! It's all true!"

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How can you write this and ... (Below threshold)

October 21, 2008 10:27 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

How can you write this and not reference "The Lost Tools of Learning?" 1947!


You are an unfortunate example of the problem you are complaining about. You think you know, but your knowledge is quite shallow, and worse, insulates you from the depths of what you don't know.

Mortimer Adler's work is available to you, to learn how to read. Susan Wise Bauer's work is a good support to his genius. We all have unprecedented wealth and leisure and if we choose to use it to fuck around online instead of civilizing and educating ourselves then we are culpable, not some phantoms who manage to simultaneously hover over and neglect their children.

The real bite in the ass is that with education available to anyone who wants it it becomes clear that it is not in everyone's nature to want it.

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...says the man from his in... (Below threshold)

October 21, 2008 11:33 PM | Posted by SQRLZ: | Reply

...says the man from his internet blog...

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Why be anonymous in the cri... (Below threshold)

October 21, 2008 11:59 PM | Posted by Eric Sohr: | Reply

Why be anonymous in the critique? All of us are "unfortunate examples" in the sense that the smarter snake can always swallow the slightly less smart snake (the real Einsteins of the world are so comfortable in their own thoughts that they are unlikely to participate in this type of activity).

How much total information was there in Greek time or available in Gutenberg's? Classical education began with a small handful of tomes and the students beat the hell out of them, by translating them into the reader's native language, memorizing passages and discussing the contents.

The maintenance of the world's infrastructure is a complex affair--orders of magnitude more information and data necessary to obtain the toilet paper to wipe our asses and the bandaids to cover the bites. Anonymous is correct in that (thankfully I believe) it is not in everyone's nature to want education. The medieval classical education was suitable for the very few at the top of the food chain or for fortunate children whose talents were "noticed."

And amidst the educational "nuggets" and "pearls" is a whole load of misinformation that each of us accumulates in the course of a lifetime. In my pessimistic view, one of the benefits of death is systematic elimination of the individual's accumulation of error.

We need the Platte. And maybe most of us belong there. But there are scholars--most of us have met them. They remain the Yellowstones, Mississippis and Amazons. (Look at that--someone from the Platte country took the Amazon name and turned it into a commercial venture that distributes books to me).

Lack of depth aside, the internet has given us the ability to communicate in this forum in a way that was never before possible. A problem that is not so bad to have.

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When I'm working, or trying... (Below threshold)

October 22, 2008 12:10 AM | Posted by xon: | Reply

When I'm working, or trying to stay ahead of my children, I have learned that there is a warning flag when I agree with part of something, and disagree with the rest of it. That warning flag is not saying, "Stop here!" It is saying, "Stop! There might be something here."

I disagree that them intarwebs are making us stupider. I also disagree that they are a mile wide and an inch thick. Let me try a counterfactual: Back in the days when learnin' meant something, to own a book or three was to be considered, quite literally, an academic. Does it follow, then, that those degenerates who actually filled a whole room with books were mere pedantic dilettantes? God forbid those heathen Alexandrines. . .

The part with which I'm uncomfortable is Carr's assertion that, basically, because 'kids these days' don't assimilate information in the way he did, they're doing it wrong. I'm guessing Carr experienced the joy of a room full of Selectrics, also, but he's probably not eschewing his Mac Air for the 'true' experience of typing. This tripe about 'not contemplating deeply' is mere resentment at being stuck with just one or two books when he stumbled onto a topic that really grabbed his imagination and enthusiasm. When I was in the library, I loved nothing more than stringing implications, conclusions and hunches together to illuminate something wonderful, but it was so tedious -- both psychological and physical -- to do so: putting the first book down on the table, having to leaf through the second book, then put that one on your lap while you got a third to compare to the first, ad somnolum. Not to mention getting the books out of and then back to the stacks. . .

Today, with tabbed browsing, I can string together whole skeins of wooly-headedness without even getting up. . . and forget about any sort of risk of cramp, strain, or - parade of horribles - dropping a book on your foot, or paper cut! (No wonder I lack 'character'!)

The innovations, insights, and even broader perspectives made possible by this is very, very arguably SUPERIOR knowledge. More fulsome, more comprehensive, and capable of illuminating broader vistas and contexts than the crabbed oppression of bound paper.

People like Carr used to wank on about the perils of Overspecialization, too. Nobody, however, complains about the extreme engineering that gives us Thirteen on their 72" widescreen now, do they?

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In my capacity as a member ... (Below threshold)

October 22, 2008 1:56 AM | Posted by Anonymous Hero: | Reply

In my capacity as a member of the second dumbest generation: surely you mean Agamemnon not Aeschylus. The blogonet confirms this and reminds me of the unfortunate and perhaps apocryphal story of his demise: an eagle dropped a tortoise on his head, killing him.

But, more broadly, I think you are certainly right that the medium changes the way we think. Although I'm not sure that recent generations are particularly dumb. Sure maybe they don't know their classics as well as some members of earlier generations but has anyone actually read Homer or Virgil, let me tell it ain't very useful.

This idea that society and civilisation is declining at each generation is dumber or worse than the one preceding it is not new (although I recognise that Alone is proposing I refinement). I think it was Homer who observed in The Odyssey that children rarely excell their parents. This was then, and is now, utter nonsense.

-Anonymous Hero

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A society becomes more inte... (Below threshold)

October 22, 2008 2:38 AM | Posted by Abe: | Reply

A society becomes more intelligent by fostering intelligent minds. Fostering intelligent minds does not imply babying them or leading them to knowledge. In the past, it was enough to just let them be, and I am content to believe it will remain that way in the future.

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We continuously interact wi... (Below threshold)

October 22, 2008 4:49 AM | Posted by Ivo Quartiroli: | Reply

We continuously interact with the Net and with other technologies like mobile phones, sending and receiving information in a pace increasing according to technological advances. Just as software responds to events, users have also started behaving in the same way, becoming servomechanisms of technology and an integral part of the galaxy of stimuli-actions. Any visual or audio signal representing a novelty is associated with something potentially dangerous. The reptile brain mechanisms get activated. This is one of the reasons why it is difficult to stay in front of a TV and ignoring moving images. Every time there is a new stimulus, it activates the mechanism of reward. On the neuroscientific level this means that dopamine gets released in neural circuits which leads to the sense of well-being and euphoria. Why diving deeper? We just want another dopamine shot in form of a novelty on the web. Information dopaminated

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Being a member of the "inte... (Below threshold)

October 22, 2008 5:00 AM | Posted by Daniel: | Reply

Being a member of the "internet generation", I have found much joy in the fact that I can learn what truly interests me and ignore that which doesn't.

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<a href="http://www.europa.... (Below threshold)

October 22, 2008 5:53 AM | Posted by Hal Dahl: | Reply

Europe is not a country?

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To paraphrase and expand on... (Below threshold)

October 22, 2008 8:31 AM | Posted by Novalis: | Reply

To paraphrase and expand on some comments already made, throughout most of human history the great majority of the population was illiterate and condemned to menial labor. What we think of as literate culture was carried on by a tiny minority. In the 20th century this improved somewhat, as literacy rose, but still, the great majority of people didn't go to college and could hardly be called engaged intellectuals.

For the first time in history modern societies are attempting to make a large majority of people widely informed and intellectually capable, and this is a massive and complex undertaking. We are still very much in a transitional stage; the Internet is very young. I think it's a bit early to forecast the falling sky.

Besides, we have no vantage point by which to step back and judge the overall worth of a civilization when we are in the midst of it. For decades now people have been saying the West is going to hell in a handbasket, yet by many measures quality of life only continues to improve. Can't we steer between Pollyanna and Cassandra?


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Still, even if the kid has ... (Below threshold)

October 22, 2008 8:42 AM | Posted by Harold Perry Dahl: | Reply

Still, even if the kid has these ideas half right (or even ninety percent right) they are more complicated and require more thought than this kid is capable of. But telling the kid that he's sort of right and trying to explain it to him would be a lost cause. But don't blame the internet. My parents and even my grandparents' generation have more than their share of clueless, arrogant know-it-alls, and they've been that way since before the internet became a part of everyone's life.

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For the record, everybod... (Below threshold)

October 22, 2008 9:40 AM | Posted by Alone: | Reply

For the record, everybody, I am aware Aeschylus did not fight in the Trojan War, that Europe is not a country...that was the point...

Also, let me emphasize my main point: it's not that adults are stupid, it is that they are stupid AND totally unaware of this-- indeed, they believe they are the most informed and knowledgeable group of all time. Add to that narcissism...

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On another blog, I wrote a ... (Below threshold)

October 22, 2008 11:27 AM | Posted by AK: | Reply

On another blog, I wrote a description of a book, and heartily recommended that book.

Someone cheerfully responded thanking me for saving her the trouble of reading the book.

The book in question is 'My Father's Guru' by Jeffrey M. Masson. I noted that it was published pre-internet, and thus is in the ghetto of material that many will never know about because it doesnt show up very often on Google. Which is a tragedy, because that book is well written, and utterly fascinating.

This blog is for followers of a guru who turned out to be a crook.

My reply was as follows:


Look, I will never write another post if people use what I write to avoid reading something as excellent as 'My Father's Guru.'

What I take away from a book may be totally different from what someone else does.


It is this willingness to take someone else's word for it, that leads and has led so very many people into pitfalls---such as the one TM Blog is now discussing.

Look at how willing so many were to take MMY's word for it.

And look at the price paid.

So...if you're intrigued by what John Knapp and I have mentioned about Masson's book--get it and read it.

For there is more, so very much more in that book than what either of us has mentioned.(unquote)

The entire article and its comments can be read here:


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Your post reminds me of Soc... (Below threshold)

October 22, 2008 1:12 PM | Posted by Esther: | Reply

Your post reminds me of Socrates' illustration of the cave (from The Republic). Alone, you have pointed out the truth you see and nobody else "gets" it.

Maybe part of my classical education was useful after all.

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Given your relationship and... (Below threshold)

October 22, 2008 1:20 PM | Posted by Bill: | Reply

Given your relationship and interest in mental illness, we thought that you might be interested in a campaign recently launched by Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre Neurosciences Department.

Did you know that, in Canada:

§ Nearly one in three people will be affected by a mental illness in their lifetime?
§ Almost 46% think people use the term mental illness as an excuse for bad behaviour?
§ One in four are fearful of being around those who suffer from serious mental illness?

This October, help Sunnybrook Foundation and Presenting Partner, Manulife Financial confront the stigma of mental illness and raise funds to support mental health research and care.

Let’s Face This - Confront the Stigma of Mental Illness is an innovative grassroots web campaign designed to raise much-needed funds and awareness in support of mental health treatment and research. It is being launched in conjunction with Mental Illness Awareness Week, taking place from October 5 - 11.

Why is it important?

Despite the prevalence and impact mental illness can have on people’s lives and the lives of their loved ones, in many cases it goes undiagnosed and untreated.

Why? Because there is a persistent stigma surrounding mental illness which can leave individuals too ashamed to seek help; too embarrassed to confide in a loved one, and left feeling alone and helpless.

What Can You Do To Help?

We invite you to visit the website - www.letsfacethis.ca - and post a photo and message on the “Tree of Support”. With each new photo added, the “tree” will grow, symbolizing growing awareness, education, fundraising and hope for those suffering from mental illness.

In addition to this, if you would be willing to post the link on your blog, this would give us some much-needed exposure.

Let’s Face This reminds us that mental illnesses, like depression and anxiety, are not the result of personality flaws or character weakness, but, like other illnesses, are biological in nature. And like other medical conditions, respond to treatment and care.

I invite you to join me and countless others confront the stigma of mental illness.

Let’s Face This together and confront the stigma of mental illness.

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In response to this spam:<b... (Below threshold)

October 22, 2008 3:34 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

In response to this spam:
"Because there is a persistent stigma surrounding mental illness which can leave individuals too ashamed to seek help; too embarrassed to confide in a loved one, and left feeling alone and helpless."
--I myself don't buy this scenario. The stories I hear from people are NOT that they avoid MH treatment because of "stigma," but because there is very little in the way of decent treatment.

Friends, bosses, neighbors, clergy, health care professioanls, and others simply do not know local, viable resources, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist who has an opening in their schedule and accepts their insurance coverage, or totally explains, and makes the case for, self-pay.

MDs hear a couple minutes of CC or PP, and simply Rx without really listening. This is often non-psychiatrist MDs. The MH professionals - incl. psychaitrists, psychologists, and various counselors, are often not actually practicing out of the evidence-based playbook.

Patients do not follow the guidance and recommendations of their therapist anyway: many don't take pills when Rx, and don't buy the self-help book, or log their maladaptive thoughts, or get out of the house and socialize, etc., as recommended/directed.

If "stigma" were preventing everyone from seeking MH treatment, then how are the psych meds quite numerous among the top 20 most-prescribed medications?

Enough of this "stigma" tale.

Let's do like the Last Psychiatrist, and try to actually do things for which there is evidence. And let's try to improve referral systems and compliance/adherence interventions.

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"I am aware Agamemnon di... (Below threshold)

October 22, 2008 4:21 PM | Posted, in reply to Alone's comment, by D: | Reply

"I am aware Agamemnon did not fight in the Trojan War," I refer you to my battered copy of the Iliad (you'll find it on the shelves on the landing, near the left, third shelf down) - I'd link to an online copy, but that would rather cut across the grain, wouldn't it? Interesting post. If I want to think I turn the computer off and sit in the garden with pen and paper or a book.

Alone's response: Oh my God, open foot and put every foot I have in it. I meant AESCHYLUS as per my actual post, not my drunken comment. Kill me now and bill me later.

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This puts me in mind of the... (Below threshold)

October 22, 2008 4:26 PM | Posted by Novalis: | Reply

This puts me in mind of the Internet as Borges's "Library of Babel," awe-inspiring in its plenitude but bewildering also. If one could only have infinity without infinite trash as well. I guess that would be God wouldn't it?
Borges would probably be fascinated by the Internet, or the idea of it anyway considering his blindness.


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What does "biological in na... (Below threshold)

October 22, 2008 6:52 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

What does "biological in nature" mean?

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medium makes one think d... (Below threshold)

October 22, 2008 9:13 PM | Posted by charlie h0tel: | Reply

medium makes one think differently

this applies to most artistic endeavors.

the interesting bit is to figure out which mediums promote (or antagonize) what kinds of expression and why.

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Nearly one in thre... (Below threshold)

October 22, 2008 11:31 PM | Posted by Anonymous Skeptic: | Reply

Nearly one in three people will be affected by a mental illness in their lifetime?

Also, one in three women has been raped, and second-hand smoke causes cancer. This sort of bullshit is where the phrase "lies, damned lies, and statistics" come from.

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Anything short of Tor is se... (Below threshold)

October 23, 2008 12:22 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous Anarchist's comment, by Anonymous Hero: | Reply

Anything short of Tor is security theatre. It is trivial with most routers to implement logging at the router level. (I guess you could also use an anonymous proxy service but I am not sure about the implications of this)

- Anonymous (and paranoid) Hero

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Is the OP by any chance a B... (Below threshold)

October 23, 2008 5:51 PM | Posted by GW: | Reply

Is the OP by any chance a Baby Boomer? This rant against Gen-Xers as being ignorant and self-absorbed sounds a lot like the same comments that have been directed at that generation since they were young children (and were typical of, say, Bloom's book as well).

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Don't feel too offen... (Below threshold)

October 23, 2008 6:27 PM | Posted by m (2): | Reply

Don't feel too offended, GW. Every generation criticizes the following one as being too irresponsible, self-centered, immoral -- whatever: pick your favorite three adjectives. It's tradition combined with failing memory and a bit of romanticism of their own childhood behavior.

Wait 'til you get your first AARP mailing, and see if you don't start slapping Gen-Y around a little. :)

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"Alone's response: Oh my... (Below threshold)

October 23, 2008 6:31 PM | Posted by marcia: | Reply

"Alone's response: Oh my God, open foot and put every foot I have in it. I meant AESCHYLUS as per my actual post, not my drunken comment. Kill me now and bill me later.

Best not to be philosophizing too much when you're so sauced you can put your foot in your foot and not realize it.

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To the IT/computer speciali... (Below threshold)

October 24, 2008 12:37 PM | Posted by AK: | Reply

To the IT/computer specialist who describes the momma who wanted to track her son's visits to naughty sites:

I share your dismay. In fact, I wonder whether this mother was genuinely concerned about her son's well being, or whether she herself had some creepy boundary problems and wanted to intrude upon what should be her son's private business.

This has to be the ultimate in what has been termed helicopter parenting--parents who intrude into every nook and cranny of their children's lives, long after said offspring are old enough to make this degree of parental oversight, incestuous, rather than appropriate.

John Waters, the guy who created wild, funny and horrifying films such as Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, and Desperate Living, was an out of control teenager who drove his upper class parents absolutely nuts. Later on, they all made peace and became able to appreciate each other. As a teen, he grew his hair long, did every possible drug, with the exception of the injectables, made movies that made his mother cry, and that elicited reviews that made her cry even more. Waters was a walking disaster in school and didnt give a damn. Now he is a delighteful, gentlemanly human being, and has earned a place as an artist.

Waters wrote:'...I am proud that my parents have never been swingers or been to Platos Retreat. I think it is healthy to visit your parents, (sort of like getting a tune up), but it is neurotic to actually hang around them.'

(My paraphrase, from memory, from Water's book, Shock Value)

That is the problem. Too many parents are determined to hang around with their children and the children get no breathing space.

And unless the kids are wise enough to turn the computer off and find a private corner, they cant even wank without the parents wanting to know what they're wanking to.

I guarantee the therapists will remain in business---assuming enough people emerge from modern childhood and adolescence able to function competantly as psychotherapists...

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I haven't read the entire l... (Below threshold)

October 31, 2008 2:14 AM | Posted by Lynne Cordero: | Reply

I haven't read the entire list of comments here, so I apologize if I am running a point to the ground; but perhaps it is a person's underlying curiousity and interests that dictate what type of activity they will pursue on the internet?

For example, I have joined a quite brutal and disciplined poetry workshop that teaches and offers etensive knowledge on literary techniques, poetic form, and offers a list of published poetry, etc. My writing has made significant improvements, and I hope to continue. I have also taken online college courses, researched material on various academic topics, and learned quite a bit on astronomy at a few sites, one of them being Nasa's.

Though, I might not have so readily engaged in such activities had they not been so easy to access. Of course, I don't just use the internet, I have always been a regular patron at the local library wherever I lived.

I am just saying, that if the desire to learn is there, one will learn, no matter which avenue they choose to do so by, wouldn't you agree? Although I do think that at some point the internet can sometimes worsen a person's tendency to wander off track and lose focus. Couple that with available online virtual world games and chat rooms, and the person may never find their way back.

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I was born in 1971. Growin... (Below threshold)

November 3, 2008 11:47 AM | Posted by Felan: | Reply

I was born in 1971. Growing up I craved learning more than any around me were able to give. I would thrill at trips to the bookstore. But on the whole I can say that there was a distinct lack of books to help guide myself as a child to deeper knowledge.

Very often the information in the internet is shallow but in many fields its possible to dive deep enough if the desire is strong, even if is just being able to find the books we need.

Perhaps moreso for me than others but I have often suffered the hubris of learning something only to realize later how little I understood. Only but repeating this mistake too many times have I come (hopefully) to temper my assumption of knowledge. Perhaps that so many are making this same mistake with Internet information will we see a gradual shift away from the shallow to deeper information.

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Perhaps I am just dumb, but... (Below threshold)

November 4, 2008 3:55 AM | Posted by Rob: | Reply

Perhaps I am just dumb, but how do you get the credentials to judge any generation other than your own? It seems to me that we have come full circle and for once we are raising a generation of people that are tougher than its previous generation, although stupider (or less intelligent if you want to be PC.) Of course that seems to coincide with what you said, yet you said it all in a negative light. Should I remind you that it was tough ass stupid motherfuckers that built this nation? Dumb asses that thought they were going to India and idiots that thought they deserved a house with a car in every driveway. Just dont forget how persistent the hard headed are.

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"I guarantee the therapists... (Below threshold)

November 4, 2008 10:29 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

"I guarantee the therapists will remain in business---assuming enough people emerge from modern childhood and adolescence able to function competantly as psychotherapists"
--That is giving us psychotherapists, in general, a lot of credit. At least there is someone out there trying to give psychiatrists some sort of evidence base for practice (albeit Pharma-tainted), along with the professional indoctrination experience. Psychotherapists in general often just have the professional indoctrination experience.

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Ever seen Idiocracy?? Tongu... (Below threshold)

November 9, 2008 6:59 PM | Posted by Super Junior: | Reply

Ever seen Idiocracy?? Tongue in cheek hyperbole on the above. Fun.

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Well, I would argue that th... (Below threshold)

November 21, 2008 3:18 PM | Posted by shane: | Reply

Well, I would argue that throughout all of history mankind has suffered delusions of knowing that which it doesn't. Religion has been with us since the earliest histories we can find and whether or not you believe in god, there is a severe lack of proof for either stance, yet today there is a great chasm between the idea of church and state separated and the actual execution of such a place in America. As for lack of depth to the web, there are just as many incomplete and erroneous texts in college libraries as the internet. Go ahead and find a book about anything from a century ago and I'm sure you will find it FULL of even basic misinformation (misspellings, wrong names, incorrect attributions). It's not just written history either, its everything. consider that at first, Tesla wasn't given any credit in the invention of radio, though several of his patents were used in it's creation; a mistake later "fixed" but still... how much of this misinformation has slipped past us undetected? If you ask me, for all of history people have been just as sensationalistic, greedy, and stupid as they are today.

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Outcries about Silicon Snak... (Below threshold)

December 2, 2008 11:54 AM | Posted by La BellaDonna: | Reply

Outcries about Silicon Snake Oil aside, I thought that the internet was ... a tool, you know? No better nor worse than the use to which it is put. I can get easily, gloriously sidetracked when I'm doing research, but that happened when I used an encyclopedia, too. Heck, it happens when I use the dictionary. I have found it to be a source of interesting ideas, some wonderful books which have found their way on-line, and a great - a fabulous! way to do indepth research in the subjects that interest me, and to find an occasional like-minded soul.

I suppose it can be used to isolate as well as broaden, but isn't that up to the user?

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You know what?? I have alwa... (Below threshold)

December 20, 2008 10:56 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

You know what?? I have always felt this way about my education. Thinking outside of the box, I have say the same thing (in my own words of course). Mind you, I have just turned 22, and majority of my life has always been about finding what is missing because what is taught to me has never been enough. Somehow I still have yet to break out of my box of a mental handicap continouously supported by those around me. This article finally shows me that I am not the only one who realizes that something is wrong with our education and with those teaching it. I love reading and researching. Perhaps that is the main reason I do see something is wrong because I have bothered to educate myself in other ways. This, too, has lead me to other moments of realizing how much more I knew over my teachers or professors. Looking up much information through live hardcovered texts and not watching television has helped me in so many ways with the way that I think.
I do believe television and other media like the internet disable our minds. They are TOO CONVENIENT. Maybe through demanding concrete and "classical" sources from others and each other when taking information, whether in school or in conversation, even something like America's obesity issue will show a drastic change, due to folks getting off their tails and going out and seeking the knowlege and wisdom, rather than expecting it at their front door or on a monitor.
This is just my youthful mind speaking... ;-)

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There is no such thing as "... (Below threshold)

December 27, 2008 5:34 PM | Posted by John Doe: | Reply

There is no such thing as "too convenient access to information", there is only weakness and poor discipline.

I grew up in the black abyss of poverty, and I thanked my local library every day for the books which permitted me mental stimulation sufficient to save me from the spectre of drug addiction, the only alternative for an over-intelligent child with nothing but time to lose.

The internet has given me but broader scope; it has expanded my purview to the point where I can apply myself to virtually any subject and find it falling into my hands.

I brought to myself a college education and a middle-class salaried career, without ever seriously touching the public education system (we'll ignore the five years I spent sleeping through 4th-8th grades), or attending more than a year of actual college, and I did it with almost zero supervision or outside assistance.

I could have done it from books, but damned if it wasn't quicker this way.

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The internet provides far d... (Below threshold)

March 3, 2009 12:40 PM | Posted by R Keene: | Reply

The internet provides far deeper information than was available to me in High School in 1977. The difficulty is finding it in the blizzard of me-to opinions.

It is much easier now to dig out the underlying scientific studies behind some news article. In 1977 original scientific papers were simply unavailable to the general public.

The true problem is understanding a real PHD level paper written in scientific jargon of a given discipline (usually a PDF doc).

None the less, with real effort and study one can do it.
The resulting picture of the validity of news articles is frightening. Almost all news articles related to any science topic are simply wrong or grossly distorted.

The crime of our educational system is simple. They leave students unaware of the basic tools to acquire knowledge and dig for facts.

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But is the internet fundame... (Below threshold)

March 3, 2009 7:38 PM | Posted by jim: | Reply

But is the internet fundamentally disabling in terms of the ability to intellectualize? The same has been said of every innovative form of media beginning from the written word; television corrupts the mind, radio marks the death of the symphony, etc. Yet in each circumstance, the sum of human knowledge -- both content wise and and in relation to understanding -- has expanded exponentially; the problem is simply that we don't know how to access it.

Now that I think about it, it is paradoxical in a way. Early thinkers in a past world where self-sufficiency was the norm (say, the founding of America) would emphasize specialization, in a pragmatic sense to further the economy, for example. Now in a world where specialization is the norm, we urge a return to the past of self-sufficient knowledge, something that doesn't require google. Which is right?

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Mirror, mirror on the wall ... (Below threshold)

October 25, 2009 12:30 PM | Posted by Mitch: | Reply

Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the
dumbest of them all: Norm, Pattis, Mike
the Pepperdine dupe, or Scotty Norm's NY
Read about it not on your space, Norm's ego
space, but on other cult members Net space
like clary's point on Norm's
insane horseshit mutterings.
Norm the Troll king of Dumb on
the Net with his Queen Trollers
Mike, and Scott, Norm's most daffy
Yes you prove the point, Mike,
your I - space has made you a very
stupid person, congratulation that that
has now dawned on you.

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Simply put: adults... (Below threshold)

July 19, 2010 5:01 PM | Posted by SR: | Reply

Simply put: adults today don't know what's important to know. So they make things up to care about.

I don't believe for a moment this actually applies solely to adults of "today" and neither do I believe previous generations of humans were any smarter than our current generation or that they knew what was significant to care about. If we look back to the past, to eras where classical education was valued and Latin and Greek a required part of the curriculum in most Western countries, you'll find among the most brilliant people in history men and women of that seemingly idyllic generation who despised school. And you'll find even among the most educated of these systems a lack of critical thinking skills or a symptom of "out of sight, out of mind." Among the most brilliant and successful people in history we have those who have claimed that school has "taught them nothing", some who were school dropouts who pursued their intellectual interests by way of their own curiosity and interest not because a parental/authority figure needed to impose any sort of academic rigor upon them.

Kids aren't as dumb as we allow them to be. They're as dumb as they choose to be. Adults as well. Smart parents can provide their children with access to resources and availability of knowledge - facts and figures are well and good - but first kids need their own motivation to learn and second there needs to be a distinction between the knowledge that helps us get along in our daily lives and play well with others, and knowledge that's probably entirely trivial. You can't posit that previous generations were any smarter because equally those previous generations also had among them a good majority, across classes, who may have willingly chose ignorance and apathy and prioritized the pursuit of other activities over reading Thucydides and Aesop. There's also those in previous generations who simply had no access to education for social/political/circumstantial reasons yet the determined among them became literate and some went on to have extraordinary and brilliant lives.

There seems to be a failure to appreciate that stupidity and ignorance is part and parcel to the human condition. Not only that, but different ways of processing knowledge and different types of intelligence exist that are often underappreciated by Western society. Intellectual arrogance, I think especially among the educated and elite (and I am in no way accusing you of such, only providing a general observation on the matter) seems to be the result of a lack of awareness of the fact that the majority of people around the world could give a flying shit about Aeschylus because they're far too concerned with their survival on the one hand or far too comfortable and content in their daily lives and busy tackling their daily challenges on the other. This is human nature. It's not one generation or another - it's existed for as long as we've been here.

Are we stupider than any other generation? I don't really buy that. Narcissistic in Western Society? Possibly, but only because our economic and political culture emphasizes the individual before society. You won't find that nearly as much in Eastern culture or in poorer countries where community relationships are key to survival and getting by in daily life.

Granted, ironically, a reading of the primary sources of ancient Rome and Greece would probably support my point better seeing that even Tacitus, Cicero, and Herodotus enjoyed pointing out the existence of general ignorance and stupidity even back in their day.

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That was too intimidating o... (Below threshold)

January 31, 2011 12:51 AM | Posted, in reply to Novalis's comment, by Francis: | Reply

That was too intimidating of a comment to be a proper ad... I know you're trying to sound like you have good stuff to say, but if it's an ad, make it accessible to the ignorant masses eh? I'll check out your blog anyway...

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And then comment sections l... (Below threshold)

April 17, 2011 8:51 PM | Posted by SpaceSnaxxx: | Reply

And then comment sections like this allow people to spout off what little knowledge they have in the vain attempt to sound as smart as they know they are. I'm not attacking anyone here...just sayin.

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i thought it was Wittgenste... (Below threshold)

April 18, 2011 4:32 PM | Posted, in reply to demodenise's comment, by alliswater: | Reply

i thought it was Wittgenstein also--"on that of which we cannot speak, we must remain silent."

wisdom cannot be taught--it is an aptitude. factory style education cannot nurture wisdom, and it isn't even intended to...but those with an aptitude for wisdom, often develop it regardless.

personally, i don't feel that gen x (the 1987 cohort) or gen y (the dumbest generation cohort) are the most narcissistic generation; we have nothing on baby boomers, they are like a plague of locusts devouring everything including their own children to feed their insatiable hunger for being important.

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If you want to buy a car, y... (Below threshold)

August 12, 2011 11:08 AM | Posted by Selena28Mclean: | Reply

If you want to buy a car, you will have to get the credit loans. Moreover, my mother commonly takes a bank loan, which occurs to be the most reliable.

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Its my first time surfing o... (Below threshold)

October 28, 2011 11:22 AM | Posted by Tiffany: | Reply

Its my first time surfing on this page. I appreciated studying your current fabulous document it is definitely important information. We Found your blog on bing and also I am online surveys for money legit pleased that we clicked on your web page link.

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This is a nice thought prov... (Below threshold)

November 19, 2011 8:17 PM | Posted by TheLastPill-osopher: | Reply

This is a nice thought provoking blog (both the posts and comments) so thanks everyone for the dialogue.
My personal experience with the issue is that the internet has noticeably decreased my attention span since I started "using" at age 12. However, since I had a smart father and mother they were able to foster a strong sense of curiosity in me that I still have today, and because of this the internet has been of great use to me in many regards. For instance I have learned conversational spanish from pirated e-books as a result of a lifetime habit of pirating music. I was able to successfully teach myself music theory and guitar from informative lessons that people posted as well as deepened knowledge related to my profession (electrical engineering). Of course I have an upper middle class privileged background making it easier for me to access and effect these skills and much of the knowledge is driven to my own narcissistic ends so you could rightfully doubt the societal benefit of such an upbringing, I won't argue with you there. I will claim that depth of knowledge than is more available to those who seek it than at any other point in human history and that this is a positive feature of the internet.

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I really, really want to sa... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2012 1:35 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I really, really want to say that I like this article. But then I'd feel guilty because I already believed all of the points in it. :P

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I thought it was a joke. No... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2012 1:37 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous Hero's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I thought it was a joke. No?

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"Sounds much like the book ... (Below threshold)

February 23, 2012 9:51 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

"Sounds much like the book by former assistant secretary of education Charles Finn, with Diane Ravitch, What Do Our 17 Year Olds Know? You can guess the answer. 8000 seventeen year olds: half thought he book 1984 is about the end of the human race in a nuclear war; 35% didn't know Watergate was after 1950. 30% didn't know Aesop wrote fables. They thought Jim Crow laws were good for blacks. Etc...."

I recently met a young woman who had graduated from high school and whose mother was going to pay for all her college *and* living expenses. The girl wasn't currently taking her up on it, but anyway.

In the process of discussing a patient who had a delusion that he was a concentration camp victim at one time (which he could not have been, because of the year of his birth), she stopped me and started talking about how I was wrong because "World War Two was in the 60's." I corrected her but she still didn't believe me. Eventually I convinced her, but I had to show her on the computer. It was amazing.

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Nietzsche - Zarathustra - t... (Below threshold)

October 18, 2012 1:58 AM | Posted by Nachiketa: | Reply

Nietzsche - Zarathustra - the Last Man - "The Last Psychiatrist" - title of this blog.

"What we cannot speak of, we must pass over in silence." Wittgenstein.

{TLP - The Last Psychiatrist/Alone - Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus/Wittgenstein.}

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I totally disagree about cl... (Below threshold)

December 20, 2012 1:10 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous Hero's comment, by Anonymous: | Reply

I totally disagree about classical learning being useless. I go to a school that still has a mandatory "western classics" approach, with specific reading lists that attempt to be somewhat comprehensive, or at least give you an idea.

They show you where your ideas come from, plain and simple, and that this society and worldview is not the only possible society or the best possible society, but rests on historical factors and an intellectual tradition.

You start to be able to compare moral perspectives with each other.

Is it acceptable to start a war over a breach in hospitality? (The Iliad)

Is it acceptable to consider some people as less equal than others? (Aristotle and Plato).

What's wrong with pedophilia? (Plato's Symposium).

When is censorship justified? (Also the Republic)

Each of these authors (at least the philosophers) had rigorously thought-out answers to those questions that make a certain amount of internal sense, but found conclusions that totally contradict how our society is run. I think that they were wrong, but at the very least they showed me how confused and self-contradictory and poorly founded my opinions on most things were.

Because we aren't told there is a "canon" to read, we abdicate our responsibility to educate in the humanities, since education is supposed to impart knowledge. People say "critical thinking" is more important than book-larnin, and they are right, but they don't get that this "critical thinking" occurs within a specific paradigm without us being told what that paradigm is based on.

We just don't think about these things without being confronted with them.

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I'll admit that I had to wi... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2013 8:39 AM | Posted by blah: | Reply

I'll admit that I had to wiki The Closing of an American Mind. Everything you've written plays on my fears about myself and ongoing generations in general.

I'll read the scientific paper though. Seems too ironic to only read its abstract.

Great blog and I'll be digging up more.

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Your friends at The Atlanti... (Below threshold)

March 26, 2013 10:45 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Your friends at The Atlantic are at it again...
"The Internet 'Narcissism Epidemic'"


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[url=http://www.softassembl... (Below threshold)

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Absolutely agree on the par... (Below threshold)

February 15, 2015 11:39 AM | Posted by sim: | Reply

Absolutely agree on the part that different mediums stimulate different ways of thinking and writing styles!

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half thought he book 1984 i... (Below threshold)

February 17, 2015 12:16 AM | Posted by Ziggy Mehta: | Reply

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