Man! These books are popping up everywhere I guess. Since I posted on it yesterday, I thought I’d add a link to this review of a book by one Mark Bauerlein called “The Dumbest Generation”…guess what it’s about! Sigh.

The interesting twist is his insistence that technology is at least partially at fault for the dumbness of American youth. From the review:

The problem is that instead of using the Web to learn about the wide world, young people instead mostly use it to gossip about each other and follow pop culture, relentlessly keeping up with the ever-shifting lingua franca of being cool in school. The two most popular websites by far among students are Facebook and MySpace. “Social life is a powerful temptation,” Bauerlein explains, “and most teenagers feel the pain of missing out.”

This ceaseless pipeline of peer-to-peer activity is worrisome, he argues, not only because it crowds out the more serious stuff but also because it strengthens what he calls the “pull of immaturity.” Instead of connecting them with parents, teachers and other adult figures, “[t]he web . . . encourages more horizontal modeling, more raillery and mimicry of people the same age.”

So, despite my previous job, I’m actually no major geek and don’t come to a knee-jerk defense of all things gadgety, and am intrigued by criticisms like this. What caught my eye was that he says technology increases narcissism specifically, by inducing us to focus energy on honing our online persona (via facebook apps for example). Being a great skeptic and reluctant user of Facebook and an absolute loather of MySpace, part of me feels he may be on to something.

…today’s digital generation is becoming insulated in its own stultifying cocoon of bad spelling, civic illiteracy and endless postings that hopelessly confuse triviality with transcendence. Two-thirds of U.S. undergraduates now score above average on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, up 30% since 1982, he reports.

And then I was all “Wtf’s the Narcissistic Personality Inventory?” So I googled it, duh. Wikipedia entry here, a billion other useless links I can’t be bothered to sift through here (OMG – Bauerlein’s right! The internet has stolen my will to learn! ha!). There’s a lot of jargon in a lot of those links, but in the end there do seem to be indications that narcissism is on the rise in the general population at a “sub-clinincal” level – general narcissism, not psycho insane narcissism.

I like that Bauerlein doesn’t seem to just flog the same old “technology which is supposed to help us connect, actually isolates us” bit. We’ve heard that line over and over again (especially in reference to WOW players, ha.) What’s refreshing is that he’s giving a more specific perspective on how it’s alienating us – by making us ever more focused, not on human interconnections, but on our technologically mediated representations of ourselves. Not entirely a new thought of course, most people don’t connect the anti-social argument with the intelligence decline argument. And of course, many will disagree, and make good arguments that kids aren’t dumb (google the title for a good sampling of responses).

So all this talk of stupidity made me then think of this flash in the news a while back about IQ scores continually rising. Everyone must read this Malcolm Gladwell article from the New Yorker on that btw. In a nutshell – with all our kids gettin’ so dumb – why are the IQ scores rising? Gladwell says it’s a reflection of a certain type of socio-cultural awareness and environment: “I.Q. measures not just the quality of a person’s mind but the quality of the world that person lives in.”

So who’s right? Could they both be? Could technology be making us smarter and dumber at the same time? Does it 1)  make us more culturally savvy and in many ways cognitively more sophisticated and therefore better at IQ tests (read Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You for one of the recent, and compelling, arguments to that end) but also 2) cripple some sort of essential interpersonal intelligence? I personally believe there are different kinds of intelligence, and most of us have at some point in our lives known that “idiot genius” who could outscore eveyone on the SATs but not hold a normal conversation, haven’t we?

I guess where I’m going with all this is that, if that is that case, we need to then think about and make conscience decisions about what kind of intelligence we foster, rather than letting technology lead us wherever it will.

I’m gonna go post this on Facebook so everyone can see how cool I am.

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