NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 13, 2008

In his provocative new book, "The Dumbest Generation," Mark Bauerlein argues that "the digital age stupefies young Americans and jeopardizes our future" by turning out hyper-networked kids who can track each other's every move with ease but are largely ignorant of history, economics, culture and other subjects that are prerequisites for meaningful civic participation.

When you go into the average 15-year-old's bedroom, it's a multimedia center.  There are a few books on the shelves; there's the laptop, the cell phone, the video game console, the Blackberry and the iPod.

For most teenagers, digital culture doesn't open them up to the great big world of ideas, artwork and politics -- which is all out there on the Internet.  Instead, it gives them what teenagers really care about, which is access to other teenagers, says Bauerlein: 

  • When asked what the most popular website, nine out of 10 teenagers said social networking sites, like Facebook and Myspace.
  • Nearly 55 percent of high school students spend less than one hour a week reading and studying for class; they spend nine hours a week social networking.
  • Only one out of 50 college students in a 2003 Foundation for Individual Rights survey could name the first right mentioned in the First Amendment.
  • Between 1982 and 2002, the National Endowment for the Arts estimates that the share of 18-to-24-year-olds who reported reading a single poem, play, novel or short story outside of school or work dropped from 60 percent to 43 percent.

Among young adults, leisure reading, visits to museums and the library have gone down.  This is only natural because the menu of leisure opportunities for them has gotten bigger, explains Bauerlein.

Source: Nick Gillespie, "Generation F," Reason, October 2008; based upon: Mark Bauerlein, Interview with Nick Gillespie, Reason TV, July 21, 2008 and Mark Bauerlein, "The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30)," Tarcher/Penguin, May 2008.

For video interview:  


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