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Facebook is killing us softly

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I’m an efficiency nut and love all things digital. I’m writing this blog for goodness sakes. When Bill Gates advocated the paperless office, I said, “Amen!” and got rid of my desk. So, maybe I’m not the best guy to write about the limits to the digital revolution, especially as relates to our chi…
By Seth Barnes

dumbest generationI’m an efficiency nut and love all things digital. I’m writing this blog for goodness sakes. When Bill Gates advocated the paperless office, I said, “Amen!” and got rid of my desk. So, maybe I’m not the best guy to write about the limits to the digital revolution, especially as relates to our children.

The Jamaicans have a phrase: “Too much a good thing, good for nothin’!” And now it appears that includes a lifestyle we’ve built around our computers. They do so much for us, but somewhere we need to draw a line.

A new book by Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University diagnoses the problem. It’s called The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30). As that long subtitle indicates, we need to be concerned about what a life lived in front of a computer is doing to our young people.

Bauerlein’s thesis is that young people spend so much time on sites like Facebook that they are losing the capacity to sit quietly in a room by themselves and read a book. As a consequence, they are losing the capacity to think deeply about issues.

The Booklist review tells us how this happens:

The immediacy and intimacy of social-networking sites have focused young people’s Internet use on themselves and their friends. The material they’re studying in school (such as the Civil War or The Great Gatsby) seems boring because it isn’t happening right this second and isn’t about them.

They’re using the Internet not as a learning tool but as a communications tool: instant messaging, e-mail, chat, blogs. And the language of Internet communication, with its peculiar spelling, grammar, and punctuation, actually encourages illiteracy by making it socially acceptable.

It’s an urgent issue. USA Today says, “If you’re the parent of someone under 20 and read only one non-fiction book this fall, make it this one.”

This is not a question of Facebook/Twitter/Cellphones being good or bad. They are wonderful communication tools. It’s a question of “do you over-use them, and does that shape the way you think?” Because I love young people, I’m concerned about this phenomenon.  So many businesspeople I know refer to their inability to commit or make disciplined decisions and they say, “They make poor employees.” 
 
If you’re a young person, consider the possibility that you may be further down this road than you realize.  I suggest buying the book and meditating on what your digital habits may be doing to your mind. It’s insidious – with over-use, your ability to communicate in-person may be handicapped. The point is, whoever it is that you’re becoming, you’d be better off becoming that on purpose, not by default, the result of a lifestyle, that while convenient, actually euthanized that part of you that was most interesting and attractive.

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