Youth and the Digital Drug


Youth and the Digital Drug

Are we in danger of raising the dumbest generation?

Last year, a thought-provoking commentary on our digital age was published titled The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. Its author, Emory University English professor Mark Bauerlein, stirred up quite a hornet’s nest with his thesis that today’s youth are dumber than any prior generation due to their being hooked on digital technology.

In his preface to his newly released paperback edition, Bauerlein states that, in the wake of all the brouhaha emanating from the chattering classes following the initial release of his book, “A blank and broad question lay on the table. Do the digital diversions of the young cut kids off from history, civics, literature, fine art? Does mounting screen time dumb them down?” He thinks the answer is yes. The observable facts of the matter clearly support him in that conclusion.

Professor Bauerlein’s declared goal in writing the book was to “open the issue to some sober skepticism, to blunt the techno-zeal spreading through classrooms and libraries, shopping malls and children’s bedrooms. It was to counter the sanguine portraits of informed and agile teens at the keyboard with dismaying survey results and illustrations of youth insulation and ignorance, kids shunning books and vaunting their digital nativity. We won’t know the full intellectual impact of text messaging, Web 2.0, Facebook, and the rest for many years, and it will show up in distant measures such as the money firms spend on writing coaches for employees, the rate of students in remedial classes ….”

Declaring amazement at the average American youth spending no more than eight minutes per day reading, the professor “points to what may be the great social consequence of the digital advent. It turns on, precisely, the relationship of generations and the duties of elders. For, we all agree, one responsibility of adults in our society is to acquaint the rising generation to a civic and cultural inheritance. They have the experience and perspective that come with aging; the young do not. Teenagers live in the present and the immediate. What happened long ago and far away doesn’t impress them. They care about what occurred last week in the cafeteria, not what took place during the Depression. They heed the words of Facebook, not the Gettysburg Address. They focus on other kids in English class, not leaders in D.C.” (emphasis mine).

It is with such a realization of the level of immaturity that dwells in the newly maturing body of a human being—barely years out of childhood—that parents, teachers and adult mentors of the young should shoulder their responsibility and cease catering to the digital whims of the rather selfish and self-centered youthful mindsets of their charges.

That the digital distractions hamper the transfer of quality knowledge to youth is a reality unique to our age.

If the adult members of a society refuse to—or are incapable of even beginning to—inculcate into the minds of following generations the best of the cultural heritage of their forebears, then that society is dooming itself to its own destruction.

Professor Bauerlein observes correctly that “Maturity follows a formula: The more kids contact one another, the less they heed the tutelage of adults. When peer consciousness grows too fixed and firm, the teacher’s voice counts for nothing outside the classroom. When youth identity envelopes them, parent talk at the dinner table only distracts them.”

Knowing that “the lure of school gossip, fear of ridicule, the urge to belong” are uppermost in the average youth’s mind, Bauerlein issues his most powerful challenge to adults. For youth “to grow up into mindful citizens and discerning consumers, then, adolescents must break the social circuit and think beyond the clique and the schoolyard. But they can’t do it themselves—peer pressure is too strong—and so adults must help draw them away. Mentors can provide instruction in bigger things: the op-ed page, actions of Congress, … what transpired in the Gulag, what the First Amendment says, the fate of Adam and Eve. … They steer young minds toward deeper wisdom and young tastes toward finer consumptions. The story of heroes and villains from history sets the eminences of senior year in bracing relief.”

There exists very clear biblical revelation as to the ultimate destructive source of this great distraction—this digital drug—and the ultimate intended goal. The Apostle Paul speaks of those who live their lives “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2).

It is of this “prince of the power of the air” and his demented minions that the Bible speaks when it warns that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). So, why should not this “prince of the power of the air” not reserve his most clever ploy to destroy the reasoning power of the generation out of which will come the leaders in the first generation of the World Tomorrow?

The digital drug is unique to our time. As Bauerlein portrays it, “Youths undergo an intense awareness of one another, a high-pressure social feeling. The stakes are high—is anything worse than exclusion?—and so they have to tune in, to manage that omnipresence. They don’t really enjoy it, for when they leave my class and flip open the cell they register concern, not glee. But if they don’t check in, they don’t know whether something big might have happened. Peer pressure long preceded the microchip, of course, but e-mail, cell phone, and the rest have cranked it up to critical levels, fostering an all-peers-all-the-time network. Communication is horizontal, centered on a narrow age-bracket, while parents and teachers hover outside the loop baffled by the immersion.”

We are currently experiencing the global mess that the self-indulgent baby boomers have gotten us into. But at least they were a generation who grew up reading! What hope is there in a future that will be taken on by a generation that has not even developed a capacity to reason, to analyze and to make sound judgments, let alone read more than eight minutes per day?

The good professor argues that “Late-teens and early-20-somethings stand at a delicate threshold that marks the most important intellectual growth of their life. They have passed the basic skills of elementary and middle school, and now they acquire the higher knowledge and understanding requisite to good citizenship and tasteful consumption. These are the years in which they read good books, discuss great ideas, judge past events, and form moral scruples. If it doesn’t happen in high school, in college, and in the home at this time, it probably never will.”

Truly responsible parents, those who are serious about raising children to become responsible and fully accountable members of society, ought to be on guard against the insidious effects of the digital drug on the minds of their children. Books such as Bauerlein’s, of which there are, thankfully, an increasing number, would be a worthwhile investment for any concerned parent wishing to be educated in “how the Digital Age stupefies [youth] and jeopardizes our future.”

Yet, there is another book that many have proven to be the ultimate tool in raising responsible youth accountable for their own actions. It’s the Bible. Never in its entire history since its original canonization has this Book of books been so easy for the open, unprejudiced mind to understand.

Read our booklet The Proof of the Bible for an eye-opening account as to the power that biblical revelation can have on influencing you to obtain true success in your life! For parents, that’s the Book that is the most essential tool to place in the hands of your children to ensure they avoid becoming part of “the dumbest generation.”