Sunday, January 24, 2010

Inquiring minds want to know

Okay, okay, you kids were born digital, blah blah blah. But don't you ever miss just being unplugged?

Many of you (okay, not all, so hold your flames!), but a good number of you walk around campus, plugs in your ears, eyes down at these little boxes, your fingers furiously tapping. The minute you exit a classroom, you urgently pull out your cel phones, I guess to be sure that World War III has not been declared or that your granny is still alive.

Can I just say that this urgent need to always either be sending or receiving really seems like some kind of fight or flight syndrome, and that we grownups think this is weird?

In fact, to us, it's frightening how much time you spend with gadgets. This, from the New York Times:
The average young American now spends practically every waking minute — except for the time in school — using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device, according to a new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
I would argue the part about "except for the time in school." Can I tell you how many times faculty have complained about people texting during their classes? And you can't stop. No matter what kind of penalty we impose. Can you say, compulsive, addictive behavior?

So the question is, why aren't you smarter? With access to the world's knowledge on your laptop or mobile phone, and, the ability to read just about any magazine or newspaper--and now, book, while sitting in bed at 3 in the morning, why do you only read Cosmo, ESPN.com and TMZ?

How come nobody knows who Harry Reid is or the dimensions and causes of the Afghan war?

This is a question a lot of people ask me. Any answers?

1 comment:

S.P. Sullivan said...

People have thought that people are getting dumber since time immemorial, and they almost always blame technology. If your college professor had a blog, she'd probably have written about that awful television and what it's done to kids' brains.

My explanation is that homo sapiens is an incredibly social animal, and almost all of that texting/tapping is interacting with other humans, albeit with that little device as a buffer.

Who are these kids who don't know who Harry Reid is? Are they journalism students? And who the hell understands the Afghan war? If people understood the War on Terror it would have ended already.

I have a policy against iPods when walking around or taking the bus. As a reporter you have too much to lose by tuning out of the real world around you.

And maybe I'm not a good representative sample, but if it weren't for the Internet I wouldn't know who Saul Bellow or Nelson Algren was, would never listen to NPR, would never watch Bill Moyer's Journal and would be markedly less informed.

But to answer your question: I think the digital age only amplifies the behavior we'd engage in anyway. The kids who only read TMZ now would only be reading Us Weekly 10 years ago.

The only difference is now it's so portable that it's become ubiquitous, amplifying bad habits and good alike.