Is Texting Making Kids Dumber?

Hey all you webby types reading our blog.  Our latest Culture section features "Generation Text," a piece by Mark Bauerlein, a professor at Emory and author of the book The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future(Tarcher/Penguin). Bauerlein claims that texting, Facebooking and all that are making our kids not only dumber, but less able to navigate the real world of human relationships. 

An excerpt:


In 1980, when an angry parent commanded, “Go to your room—you’re grounded!” the next few hours meant isolation for the teen. Today, the bedroom is not a private space. It’s a social hub. For many kids, the bedroom at midnight provides a rich social life that makes daytime face-to-face conversations seem tame and slow. Amid the pillows with laptop or BlackBerry, they chat with buddies in 11th grade and in another state. Photos fly back and forth while classmates sleep, revelations spill forth in tweets (“OMG, Billy just called Betty his ——”), and Facebook pages gain flashier graphics.

In this dynamic 24/7 network, teen activity accrues more and more significance. The events of the day carry greater weight as they are recorded and circulated. The temptation for teens to be self-absorbed and self-project, to consider the details of their lives eminently memorable and share-able, grows and grows. As they give in online, teenagers’ peer consciousness expands while their historical understanding, civic awareness and taste go dormant before they have even had much chance to develop.

This is the hallmark of what I have called the Dumbest Generation. These kids have just as much intelligence and ambition as any previous cohort, but they exercise them too much on one another. They are building youth culture into a ubiquitous universe, and as ever, youth culture is a drag on maturity. This time it has a whole new arsenal.

What do you think?  Feel free to comment here, comment on the article page, send us a letter, or text me your answers

James Martin, SJ



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9 years ago
As a 23 year old, I too have noticed this striking increase in technological communications among those only a few years younger than I.  I am young enough to experienced my teen and young adult years absorbed in the technologies discussed here, however. Having said that, I wonder if Bauerlein is being a bit unfair in his representation of teens today. First, to emphasize the generational self-absorption facilitated by these devices is to overlook the opportunities they have created for young people to engage with the world. On Facebook, my friends join "groups" surrounding social justice, and post Web sites concerning news, politics, religion, and many other outward-looking issues. On my iphone, I read the newspaper and follow various intelligent blogs. I often hurry to text message friends when I hear about important issues. He doesn't address any of these outward-oriented functions.
Second, I find Bauerlein's label, "the dumbest generation" to be sensational, degrading, and simply unfitting for his argument. If he is concerned with self-absorption and individualism, find a generational label that suits that (i.e., Twenge's "Generation Me").  "Dumbest" has nothing to do with the concerns he presents, from what i can tell. Furthermore, the superlative serves to glorify the scholar's own generation, and those before him. This is a common tendency in generational analyses of those younger than ourselves, and we should be weary not to let our analysis become nostalgia at the cost of those younger than us-those who so often don't have a voice in what is written about them. 
Rather than simply lamenting the downsides of growth in technological communication, we can consider a more productive response: How can we utilize these communication tools to engage people in useful, caring, justice-seeking information exchange?
9 years ago
With Shakespeare's masterpieces now being reduced to Twitter tweets, perhaps the end of education and culture is nigh. ;) However, I have to admit some of the tweets about Shakespeare himself are humorous. For example: "William Shakespeare #poison #murdermostfoul what's a good cheap poison/how much do u need to kille a teenager? September 25, 1591"
9 years ago
I have two texters in the family and two non-texters, not including my husband and myself.  The two texters keep us in touch with family and friends near and far.  If it should ever come to it, I would only need to confiscate the phones, not send them to their rooms to punish them.  However, they seem more engaged with the world and with other people by nature than my non-texters, so it really isn't doing anything to them.  All my kids are really smart too.
Steve Heyduck
8 years 11 months ago
Tweeting Shakespeare notwithstanding, learning to communicate complete thoughts effectively in 140 characters (or less) is a skill lost on most adults with whom I deal.  perhaps there is an upside to the textworld and twitterverse.


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