Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

The decline of culture–part 863

Posted on | May 13, 2008 | 4 Comments

Television viewership is down in the wake of the writer’s strike, according to the Associated Press today. That would be fantastic news were it not for the fact that the Web is supplanting those habits (and TV networks are happily obliging them). So video-programming viewership really isn’t down; watching the Tube while drooling on yourself is.
Now comes a book from Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University, titled “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.”
We’re going, it seems, to hell in a hand basket. Now, change always is tricky, and if we jumped back to 1968, I’m sure we’d feel the same, but, hey, we got through it. Or did we?
The ’60s saw the coming of age of the most self-centered, wasteful generation in the history of the planet. Its size and voraciousness (ethically, environmentally, culturally) has been a two-edged sword: It’s brought about some fantastic innovation; it’s deeply wounded or destroyed a lot of our culture, economic assumptions and mores. We battle with it everyday in the media.
So not all change is necessarily good.
Enter Bauerlein, who makes the case that our future will be run by knuckleheads. My first reaction is that the worst-case scenario rarely plays out. But maybe, given what we saw from the 1960s, that we’re headed into uncharted intellectual territory. We’re already seeing the leading edge of this in the workplace, where communications skills have had to be re-taught to college graduates. This is not a new complaint, frankly.
But the problem may be deeper. Digital devices today insinuate themselves into relationships. in a harmful way. Not only have they dumbed down conversations, they’ve prompted a lot of young people to redefine conversations as the occasional bleating of a fragmentary sentence followed by glazed eyes returning to a portable digital device, thumbs a-twitching. My wife and I ate Friday at a nice restaurant in the Carneros region of Napa. Young parents with two toddlers fidgeted for most of the meal with their mobile phones. Grandmother, brought along perhaps as family garnish, went largely ignored.
A new generation unable to construct a proper sentence? How about a generation that can’t communicate. Period.

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4 Responses to “The decline of culture–part 863”

  1. Loring Wirbel
    May 15th, 2008 @ 9:57 am

    I still see this fundamental disconnect between your advocacy of Twitter and your bitching about declining F2F interaction. Sure, all social networks build legitimate communities, but Twitter in particular demands the most time due to its near-real-time nature. I think of all social networks as necessary evils that should be used with extreme discipline to avoid the total obsession in a virtual world that keeps you from relating to the physical world. And the self-selective nature of social-network communities is one of the inherent problems. The nice thing about the physical world is the random nature of who you might run into. With social networks, and with texting or simply using a mobile phone for a voice call (how Old School), you are “preaching to the choir” by interacting with a very predictable and finite set of colleagues.

  2. wretch
    May 15th, 2008 @ 10:31 am

    I know oodles of people who pissed away hours of their time back in the mid-’90s in chat rooms on Compuserve and Genie. Most of us tired of that right quick.

    I can’t help but wonder if this generation will get similarly weary of social networking.

  3. Greeley's Ghost
    May 19th, 2008 @ 10:05 pm

    I have no argument with Loring’s argument. I think, though, there is a distinction that I can draw between advocating a particular tool for work reasons and ranting about the decline of human interactivity.

    I really appreciate an excellent wine but I love beer too.
    I still enjoy worrying about the state of our culture, although really it’s worrying about the state of our lives. At dinner tonight we talked about how the tools we have at our disposal (the tools that the next generation has at its disposal) threaten the very nature of story telling, which is central to ALL except the very youngest workers today.
    That’s a blog post waiting to happen and it’ll take a few beers to pump it out.

  4. It’s the medium is the message, stupid |
    August 9th, 2010 @ 8:16 pm

    […] to communicate emotion through images; it’s not so great for communicating complex ideas (The Decline of Culture–Part 863). That television dominates the media world today is directly connected with how ineffective our […]

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