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July 3, 2008

The Author strikes back

Posted: 10:37 PM ET

Mark Bauerlein, author of The Dumbest Generation, sent this response to my review of his (and others') book, and he offers some good points about the purpose of the book.

"You’re right, Peter, the benefits of the Internet are extraordinary. It’s a miraculous advent. But the most beneficial uses aren’t the ones that appeal most to the kids. When Nielsen ranked most popular sites for teens, nine out of the top ten were for social networking. That’s what the Web means to them: nonstop contact with one another. It’s not a window into history, art, civics, literature, foreign affairs. It’s another medium of peer pressure, this one running 24/7.

The big question for educators is: How do we transfer all that generational interactivity toward knowledge- and taste-inducing exercises?"

Mark Bauerlein - Emory University    Author, "The Dumbest Generation"

Filed under: Uncategorized

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Larian LeQuella   July 3rd, 2008 11:52 pm ET

I'll just copy/paste what I said in the other blog post: Very cool to see one of the authors in this blog though! In answer to your question, I would say that one of the largest failings is on the part of the parents who don’t get involved in their children’s internet activities. I steer my daughter towards places that are discussing new discoveries in science. It’s a start at least.

Franko   July 4th, 2008 2:15 am ET

Over a century ago, Chinese made Eunuchs of boys and bound the feet of girls.

"Knowledge" and repetition of historical interpretation is not understanding. "taste-inducing exercises" presume a valid and desirable preference.

Franko   July 4th, 2008 2:22 am ET

Over a century ago, Chinese made Eunuchs of boys and bound the feet of girls.

“Knowledge” and repetition of historical interpretation is not understanding. “taste-inducing exercises” presume a valid and desirable preference.

hba   July 4th, 2008 2:23 am ET

Me too.
Always involved Internet activities with my kids and share one e-mail account for the whole family (but at the same time of course I have my own personal e-mail).

Get some advise at

Joe   July 4th, 2008 8:05 am ET

I just twittered this article for feedback. Received an interesting response:

"IMHO, if you're not part of a system of peer pressure, you don't have any friends. Peer pressure proves real relationships."

S Callahan   July 4th, 2008 11:51 am ET

Yes, The author is correct in saying social sites are the focus of the young, causing another form for peer pressure. But there is also a very positive side to that as well.
From my experiences it is also a window for many children. My children, now young adults, met many wonderful people throughout the world online which opened up their curiosity to travel to other countries. One of my children even lived in another country for awhile, and now is in another state away from his family. Through their travels they maintained those online relationships, and then had the fourtune to meet face to face with some reliable contacts; as well they learned a little bit more about another's culture including the deprevation of poverty for some, and to my delight a much greater appreciation for the United States of America.

Franko   July 4th, 2008 6:16 pm ET

Peer pressure, for boys, used to be resolved by standing up to the bully. But some, who could not, occasionally, committed suicide. Girls are even more intensely involved. Around grade 2, they start cutting each others social ties, refusing to play, ordering friends to avoid the ostracized etc. The teacher explained, this behavior, by girls, used to be ignored, Now, the teachers are right on top of it, and actively break it up. Still, a very large percentage of girls consider suicide.

Karen D   July 5th, 2008 8:58 am ET

We can't blame the tools for educational failure, we must look elsewhere. Most schools encourage the sue of computers in the classroom and for homework, research and sites other than MySpace and YouTube.

The net is a wonderful learning center for anyone of any age. I'm quite certain kids are learning a great deal from internet sites. But somehow if they would have been asked 20 years ago to name their favorite places to hang out I doubt they would have included the library on that list. Do you really think they will include or a history site on today's list?

Yet I frequently run into my kids and their friends looking to the net for an answer. Whether it's a trivia question or something more involved such as the identification of a salamander that wandered into the yard, or the solution to a hard starting engine problem – they turn to the net.

The socialization they learn online is a wonderful thing. The ability to meet people from all over the world will go a long way towards eliminating many prejudices held by their parents generation.

Paul   July 6th, 2008 7:57 am ET

The economy is proving to be the catalyst for increased shopping on the internet.As fuel prices skyrocket surfers are looking for quicker and easier ways to purchase the staples required to maintain their lifestyle. This surfer found a new site that promises to be used in mass when searching a very well used website for every aspect of items for sale.
If you go to you will see the benefits of a site wide search.
Can anyone suggest any other sites for this premise?

Marc   July 6th, 2008 2:11 pm ET

What do the social values of the internet matter at all when in 5-10 years most of us won't be able to afford to use it?

Jim   July 6th, 2008 4:50 pm ET

Networking characterizes the modern time, just as every historical period had its own characteristics. The internet is a window to many things, including history, literature, and so on. More importantly, it allows people to get immediate feedback, and for that sake, be more efficient than ever. The internet is equivalent to Romans' swords and Mongols' horses. Appreciate it. Jim

John Shapiro   July 6th, 2008 7:40 pm ET

The entire subject is ridiculous and offensive. Making statements of this nature (i.e. the title itself) is no less hurtful than saying any number of rash absolutes based on either statistics (which are themselves biased) or an authors clearly biased view.
This is slandering a group of individuals based entirely on a trait over which they have no control, just as bad as racism or sexism. The fact that individuals under 30 will eventually age out of that group gives no right to an author to condemn them as being dumb or untrustworthy.
Should we also write a book about the dumbest race based upon statistics?
How bout we test individuals from various religions and find the one with the dumbest followers.
I appreciate your intention to use shocking language in order to provoke a response, but there are still lines one must not cross. Perhaps those under 30 are not performing as well on tests as previous generations (though I doubt very many of those tests have actually been presented to individuals over 30 under the same conditions).
There are also other things to consider. If I weren't under 30 I guess I might recall some of the injustices that happened to the generations before. Maybe you remember it differently than from what I remember from history books, but 1968, 40 years ago, didn't strike me as a time of great intelligence or social understanding: Vietnam war, MLK's assassination, RFK's assassination.
Perhaps they don't count because the people you are comparing my generation to weren't significantly influencing decisions. How bout today? The war in Iraq? The disaster response to hurricane Katrina? The weakening dollar? Social Security? National debt? The disapproval for our president is at an all time low since any such polls have been taken. Our country has abysmal foreign relations. Median age of voters is about 50. Your generation is not exactly doing a brilliant job yourselves.
Social injustices can be far more damaging than sheer volume of knowledge one needs to retain. Yet, you are upset that individuals under 30 are spending their time online socializing and learning to get along with each other?
Yes, provoke a response. Raise teacher salaries to attract better teachers. Raise the education standards. Establish some real standards for bachelor's degrees. Maybe fix some of the aforementioned problems. Very few individuals under 30 have any influence over such things. That's your job. Stop slandering a group that can't fight back.You have established laws, rules, and general bias preventing over half of them from having any influence over the situation.
If you don't think we read books, why would you write a book unless you thought the problem would best be influenced by the older generation? If that's the case, maybe you should rename the dumbest generation to be those parents and teachers who allowed what you consider to be such tremendous failings.

Bob   July 7th, 2008 6:57 pm ET

I have to agree with him. The younger generation is wasting a tremendous resource. I see examples of this quite often. I participate in a social/journaling site where a number of the journals deal with photography.

It is not uncommon for a young person to come up with a post asking what camera or what lens should I get. They offer no information about what they will use it for. They do not let us know what their interest level is. They simply depend on complete strangers to tell them what they should get.

And, people will tell them to get this camera, or that camera, or whatever. None of them think to ask what the purpose of the camera will be. And, saddest of all, the person asking makes no effort to look on Google, or any other site to find out for themselves what is best for them.

And, then there are the so-called younger "professional" photographers who will come up and ask "what kind of shots do I need to take" for this wedding I am shooting this weekend. "What should I charge them..." Or, "what kind of equipment... ?"

They claim to be professionals and they don't know the simplest things about their profession! I don't know what is more pitiful, the so-called professional, or the person hiring them.

Franko   July 8th, 2008 12:03 am ET

There is a difference between Dumb and Stupid.
Dumb is lack of mental capability. Stupid is knowing, but choosing wrong.

Neither Dumb nor Stupid. Detectably Naive, but learning fast.

Shivananda Hariharganga   July 8th, 2008 9:44 am ET

Of course I will betray myself for the old hippie I am ( yes there are still some of us left, even here in India ) when I recall to mind what that visionary of the 60's, Mcluhan, pointed out - that all the technology we human beings invent is nothing more than extensions of the instrumentation we were born with ( see Patanjali, c. 1500 BCE ).

Any criticism of these technologies, of the ways we use them, and the internet is merely one of the more recent, is really only critcism of ourselves, darker observations, perhaps, of who we, as individuals and nations actually are.

All this new science and all these hi-tech gadgets take us merely to the goal at which we would have arrived anyway, only much, much more quickly. Clearly, human society is trapped in a positive feedback loop which seems unavoidably headed to systemic overload, and the inevitable consequences which have always followed.

No worries, though, for, without a doubt, the universe knows what it is doing !! The real question, it seems to me, has become, 'Are we people, as a species, capable of meeting the world's high expectations of us ?

I, for one, truly believe we are !

Dwight   July 8th, 2008 1:22 pm ET

Ack. Times change...always and literally. The kids these days tell me that they don't NEED to know anything except how to use the net. "What they don't know, they can find out." They're both right and wrong. They can find the formula for gravity, but they can't work it and don't understand it, and that's when they turn to their 'friends'.

I was raised according to a set of social standards that no longer exist. (When was the last time YOU attended a formal ball? Or made a visitor comfortable by offering them a smoke?) Todays kids are just doing their job. Taking risks the adults are unwilling to attempt. Finding that which works and that which doesn't. Swimming in the great pool of human development, sinking, rising, living and dying.

Lastly, I had read about 40,000 books by the early nineties, when the net took off. Since then, I've read millions of pages but very few books. I miss the novels, but nothing else. As a tool for reference, the internet beats the library hands down. Oh, and nobody going "shh" if you mutter too loudly, hehe. No wonder they socialize on the net......

Franko   July 10th, 2008 2:14 am ET

"Apparently, an interviewer was chasing Albert Einstein down back in the day. He asked Einstein if he could call him for an interview. Einstein said yes and proceeded to walk into a phone booth, grab the phone book, find his number and read it to the interviewer."

Kids are now smarter than Einstein !
Just Google for impossible to understand theories of the universe.

E   July 12th, 2008 10:07 pm ET


Mark T   July 13th, 2008 10:54 am ET

How much of this argument is novel. Socrates and Plato themselves, complained about the fact that the young people, disrespected their elders, didn't follow their traditions, and were didn't learn the proper language and values of the society.

While it's true that the Greek culture did collapse some hundreds of years later, that was on account of Imperial overstretch rather than stupid citizens....wait perhaps one does beget the other...considering the situation presently.

In reality however, we choose to perpetuate what is VALUABLE, so if 500 years from now , we are using some telepathic equivalent of Youtube or Hulu , we can be sure it was a valuable idea.

I think we underestimate the power of young people to eventually come to the right conclusions about things, since if it were oh so tragic , society would in fact have collapsed back to some prehistoric state several thousand years ago, where we were forever building small communities and city states and having them collapse into oblivion because "the kids today ... just don't get it.".

I personally suspect the adults of today have problems "not getting it", more than their children, while I am not a huge believer that all the social technology has much merit outside of the hyper-social lives of the 8-24 year old set, that's primarily because I'm outside of that demographic and do alot more thinking on my own.

Certainly the technology is useful, and the conventions are applicable, but it's unlikely that in advanced age, there will be 60 , 70 and 80 somethings twittering away their time.

To be perfectly fair, the commentary that children today know alot more than Einstein, is in some ways true, we have an infinitely larger amount of access to the human body of knowledge, as individuals, Google, Metacrawler, Yahoo all serve as the new Library of Alexandria.

Such that the most remote town with internet access can provide almost as much information to their citizens as Harvard or Princeton can to their students, the value of this "leveling of the playing field" or as Friedman called it "making the world flat", is not to be undervalued.

And if we really look at the heart of the matter, here's a question I have though, how come there aren't many more Einstein's?

Put another way, this technology shows or enhances the the value of personal genius, with so much more information available, so much more easily, there should be much more "bang for the buck", I suspect the reason is that while we may not be headed for the apocalypse we are also not exactly headed for some sort of technological Arcadia either.

The future is going to be alot like the present....only moreso.

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