Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein discussed his theory that the digital age, with its promise of instant communication and easy access to information, has actually produced a generation of young people (those under 30) who are less knowledgeable about the world around them and more self-absorbed than any that has preceded it.
"We keep waiting for the fruits of all of this greater knowledge and information to come forth in younger people," Bauerlein said. Yet, reading scores are down since the early 1990s, an increasing number of incoming college freshmen are placed into remedial courses, and employers complain about poor communications skills in their younger employees, he continued.
Bauerlein believes electronic messaging and social-networking (Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, etc.) have contributed to the problem, as these digital tools allow young people to remain entirely focused on themselves and their peers. Kids communicate with friends 24 hours a day about every trivial detail of their lives, Bauerlein said. This immersion in the adolescent world is preventing young people from growing up, he suggested.
In addition, Bauerlein pointed out that constant texting, with its simple sentences and peculiar grammar, has reduced this generations' capacity to write cogent arguments, read dense texts and in general perform well as students. As many as 55% of high school students study or read no more than one hour per week, he added.
Bauerlein also expressed concern over statistics that show the number of young Americans majoring in science, math and technology has dropped over the last 20 years. A larger number of foreign born students are now seeking advanced degrees in these subjects, he said. This dramatic shift will eventually cause the United States to lose its intellectual edge to other nations, such as China and India, and ultimately diminish the country's economic power as well, Bauerlein warned.