What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

Is This Both the Smartest and the Dumbest Generation?

September 2, 2013, 8:20 PM
Powerpoint_image

So I’m teaching a seminar this semester on Technology, Biotechnology, and Democracy. Its balanced effort, of course, will be show how technology makes our lives both better and worse, as well as how technology both enhances and threatens our democracy.

One irony about this course is that it will use no technology beyond electricity, air conditioning (imagine how hellish the South was before it was invented), and perhaps heating toward the end of the semester. Well, I will also ask students to download some articles and chapters off the web. I’m pro-choice on e-books and devices with which to read them. I’m now strongly opposed to students using laptops, large tablets, and such in class. They’re already quite techno-plagued with ADD without tempting them to multitask their way to a more serious case still on my time.

My whole “teaching method” will be talking about and having students write papers about books and articles. It’s true that they won’t be all “great books,” and I’m assigning more reading and going through it more quickly than I would in a course in political philosophy or constitutional law.

We'll start with Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. That over-the-top title (which I don’t like) doesn’t do justice to the content of the book, which shows that young people are getting smarter in some ways, but dumber in others. Unfortunately for our future, the ways they’re getting dumber are far more important for their dignity and happiness.

Let me just focus on a couple of paragraphs (pp. 94-95) in his chapter “Screen Time.” I will highlight his key points in a way appropriate for the teaching method of the blog. And I will dispense with using quotation marks when I use Bauerlein’s exact words. It goes without saying that I’ve slipped in some thoughts of my own:

1. Virtually all of our students have hours—and often many, many hours—of daily exposure to screens.

2. So they excel at multitasking and interactivity, and they have very strong spatial skills.

3. They also have remarkable visual acuity; they’re ready for rushing images and updated information.

4. BUT these skills don’t transfer well to—they don’t have much to do with—the non-screen portions of their lives.

5. Their screen experiences, in fact, undermine their taste and capacity for building knowledge and developing their verbal skills.

6. They, for example, hate quiet and being alone. Because they rely so much on screens keeping them connected, they can’t rely on themselves. Because they’re constantly restless or stimulated, they don’t know what it is to enjoy civilized leisure. The best possible punishment for an adolescent today is to make him or her spend an evening alone in his or her room without any screens, devices, or gadgets to divert him or her. It’s amazing the extent to which screens have become multidimensional diversions from what we really know about ourselves.

7. Young people today typically are too agitated and impatient to engage in concerted study. Their imaginations are impoverished when they’re visually unstimulated. So their eros is too. They can’t experience anxiety as a prelude to wonder, and they too rarely become seekers and searchers.

8. They have trouble comprehending or being moved by the linear, sequential analysis of texts.

9. So they find it virtually impossible to spend an idle afternoon with a detective story and nothing more.

10. That’s why they can be both so mentally agile and culturally ignorant. That’s even why they know little to nothing about how to live well with love and death, as well as why their relational lives are so impoverished.

11. And that’s why higher education—or liberal education—has to be about giving students experiences that they can’t get on screen. That’s even why liberal education has to have as little as possible to do with screens.

12. Everywhere and at all times, liberal education is countercultural. And so today it’s necessarily somewhat anti-technology, especially anti-screen.  That’s one reason among many I’m so hard on MOOCs, online courses, PowerPoint, and anyone who uses the word “disrupting” without subversive irony.

 

Is This Both the Smartest a...

Newsletter: Share: