Sunday, June 15, 2008

Peer immersion, social networking, and stupefaction

Here is an insight inspired by The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30) by Mark Bauerlein.

Consider this a recipe for ignorance. Given the increase in "social networking technologies," such as FaceBook, MySpace, cell phones, text messaging, and the like, those under thirty spend more time with peers than with older (or younger) people. Call it peer immersion. Then, realize that communication in this chronological freeze frame also tends to be about (amazingly enough) adolescent obsessions: clothing, pop music, television, video games, and more.

The result is an attenuated vocabulary (with "awesome" and "sucks" doing most of the emotive work), little knowledge of history, philosophy, and science, but plenty of data exchange about what usually amounts to trivia. These "media savvy" (how I loathe that locution) millennials are slick with their gizmos, but sadly too often ignorant of much intellectual content, such as naming the Ten Commandments, the five freedoms of the First Amendment (no, "freedom of expression" is not one of them), or the Five Solas of the Reformation.

The remedy: Unplug, un-peer, read books, and listen and talk to your elders.


SteveJ said...

You are a curmudgeon after my own heart.

Not only does the diminished vocabulary show up in peer conversations, it's now crept into major media. My wife watches these home fix-it shows and I'm struck often with the incessant use of "awwwwesome" (even by the shows' hosts) to modify anything the speaker likes ... even a little. If you ask me, that's awwwwwwwful.

My other complaint is that when I mention something to a young person about a piece of culture that predates his birth, I often get, "Oh, that was before my time." I always think, "So what? Did time begin at your birth, Mr. Center-of-the-Universe? Benny Goodman was before my time, but I still know who he was. Abraham Lincoln was before my time, but I'm still familiar with the Gettysburg Address!"

One anecdote. I was at work and a young guy observed that the copy machine was making a rhythmic sound as it churned out copies. "It's got rhythm," he said. I chimed in, "Who could ask for anything more?" He looked at me like I was an idiot.

Youth is wasted on today's young.

Doug Groothuis said...

"That was before my time. Who cares?"

What utter, abject self-centeredness! History begins and ends with precious Me. That, ironically, is evidence of the shriveled and puny self, inflated with nothing but air and bile.

I wrote a poem about 1.5 years ago called YouWorld that tries to capture this disease.

Doug Groothuis said...

The poem is on this blog.

RyanEaves said...

We may not have the freedoms of the First Amendment memorized, but we can Google it on our iPhones faster than you.

That's a joke. Stop typing.

You are a master generalizer and nothing more. I really hope you aren't one of the elders you want the younger generation to listen to because you are an unoriginal and closed-minded author. You use colorful vocabulary to burden the world with your shallow and underprocessed viewpoints. And you don't even recognize the contradictory nature of posting a blog entry about how everyone should "unplug."

It's easy to bash an entire generation, so I can see why you would be tempted to empower yourself that way. At least be original. Every generation has self-righteous gascon to lament over the downfall of civilization at the hands of their children. Evidently you are putting your name in that hat. But you forget that you and your contemporaries were a great disappointment to your parents, too. That aside, what really bothers me the most is that you are a professor and therefore trusted with shaping minds that you don't even understand.

The remedy: Get off your high horse and get to know one of those kids you just marginalized. You have a lot to learn from them, too.

Hey stevej- Maybe he just didn't like you because you walk around all day condescending people you don't know. And I know who Benny Goodman was. Do you know who the most recent roommate to leave the Real World was? Some people have the capacity to be familiar with historical as well as current entertainment figures. It's weak-minded to assume that everyone shares your limited capacity for knowledge.

Now if you two will excuse me, I am going to go listen to my collection of Django Reinhardt MP3s and reply to a MySpace message from my grandfather.

SteveJones said...
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SteveJones said...
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SteveJones said...

Hey stevej- Maybe he just didn't like you because you walk around all day condescending people you don't know.

Arghhhh .... the pain. I'm bleeding all over the cyberfloor of this blog. A rapier to the spleen!

I really do agree with you about my generation (Baby Boom) being a major disappointment to my parents' generation. I won't defend my own generation for an instant. We've screwed up this country royally -- possibly beyond repair. If you dudes are as awesome as you think you are, maybe you can fix it.

By the way, you might be just a tad more respectful toward the professor. That's pretty bad form.

Incidentally, the Real World roommate is Rory Blubbitz. (And you thought I didn't know.)

Doug Groothuis said...

Ryan exemplifies the attitudes that worry many: flippant, emotive, superficial, reactive. His post speaks more of the truth of what I wrote than he knows, sadly.

I do know my students, their habits, strengths and weaknesses. I always try to make them wiser, better people. That means looking at social trends (hence my reference to the very well documented book, The Dumbest Generation) and getting to know them personally. I point out problems for the common good. Of course, not everyone will listen or take seriously the concerns.

Sarah Scott said...


I cringe at the emotive diatribe you chose to impose upon readers of this blog, instead of carefully reading and learning from astute observations. If, in fact, anyone is closed minded here, then you might wish to thoughtfully redirect the pointed finger.

The person who is unwilling to turn a critical eye in their own direction (or, in this case, towards their own generation) proves himself or herself to be quite foolish.

The view from the millennial trench is that these "generalizations" (read: observations) are highly accurate and should be heeded. The point is missed if the false assumption is made by certain defensive group members that the observer claimed every single individual within the observed group displays all of these behaviors.

Even with a few green leaves, a brown tree is still brown overall. To say otherwise is either to be colorblind or to deny reality.

No one benefits when society refuses to acknowledge its own otherwise treatable diseases.

Your (I assume) fellow millennial,

Tom said...
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Beitler said...


Your attack is merely ad hominem, bereft of any argument. Think on Dr. Groothuis' post:

There are certain technological phenomena that decay one's ability to think. Think about that for a second. By choice a generation empties itself of the grounds (language, cultural referents) on which to think.

Is that the world you want to will away to your children?

A wise man once said regarding this very question, "There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped."

Doug Groothuis said...


Is all social criticism aimed at another age group, de facto, self-righteous? Isn't that poisening the well or ad hominem?

Why not criticism yourself and criticize broad, disturbing social trends one discerns? The alternative is silence with no advise given to others who might benefit from it.

Believe me, I have plenty of criticism of boomers as well. But generational evaluation (the secular equivalent of astrology, as Os Guinness put it) is dangerous, since each person must be seen as an individual. Some of the most curmudgeonly people I know are millennials!

SteveJones said...

Why not criticism yourself and criticize broad, disturbing social trends one discerns?

The capacity for honest criticism of one's own generation probably doesn't develop much before age 40 for a lot of people. Look at the level of self-assessment my generation had during Woodstock. We were so inexperienced, so full of ourselves that we didn't know that we didn't know very much at all. It would be comical if it weren't for the negative consequences society is still reaping because of us.

Tom said...


I was probably just a bit cranky last night; my apologies!

Still, I thought that ryaneaves post had some merit and that he was being kicked around a bit too much.

Doug Groothuis said...


It's OK. I have been in a bad mood since about 1997.


Jim Pemberton said...

Sarah, you write like I think. *smiles*

This is why my wife and I homeschool and carefully consider what we expose our kids to. Not to shelter them, but to teach them how to properly apprehend, evaluate and analyze what they will inevitably be exposed to beyond our instruction.

Mr. Eaves' attitude illustrates another reason we homeschool.

Doug Groothuis said...


We need some Christian folks to have lots of kids and home school them. It may be the only hope for Western civilization.

See Mark Steyn's book, American Alone. He is now on trial in Canada for hate speech violations. God help Canada.


Bill said...

How exactly did Ryan's response prove Doug's point? Because he disagreed? If he hadn't written anything, you would have called him lazy. Because he has a different opinion and took the time to write something, you say that makes Doug right. Wow. That's awfully convenient.

In all due respect, there is a lot of congratulating each other that goes on here Instead of ripping pop music and movies and MP3 players and cell phones, why don't the parents take accountability for the results of their children?

I don't agree with the assertion that this is the laziest generation--frankly, it's too early to tell. But Ryan made a valid point, every generation thinks the following generation is worse than they were/are. Your parents thought about you and your grandparents about your parents, etc. Heck, there have been tons of songs, jokes, and stories making that exact point. It's a little early in the game to say what this generation's legacy will be. Rock n' roll didn't ruin every kid 40-50 years ago and I don't think technology will ruin this one either.

Either way, take some accountability and focus on the family. I guess it's easier to blame Lindsay Lohan and Brittney Spears for the shortcomings of today's youth, instead of Mom and Dad.

One last point, almost every survey shows that this country's majority religion is Christianity. That means that if there is a problem with the kids, percentage-wise, they are probably coming from Christian parents. But I guess it's probably all the non-Christian kids who are lazy.

Doug Groothuis said...

Sarcasm has little argumentative force, Bill.

I am committed to educating people under 30 (and over 30). That means understanding social trends and exegeting the souls of my students, for whom I am responsible for before God.

The broad social trends, documented aply in "The Dumbest Generation" do not look good for millennials. Therefore, I speak out concerning this profound threat to knowledge and culture. Moreover, through my teaching I try to encourage knowledge and discernment at Denver Seminary, in the church, and through my adjunct teaching at secular schools.

The massive technological changes of the last 20 years are unparrelled in human history. Therefore, you cannot write off my comments as being those of an elder who disparages youth. That is superficial in the extreme. If you want to really understand the effects of technology on culture, read Neil Postman, "Technopoly."

Moreover, I grant that rock music did debase culture in many ways. See Ken Myer's chapter on this in "All God's Children" (Crossway, 1989). It encouraged crudeness, lewdness, and rudeness. And rap is worse, of course. Eminem raps about raping and killing women--and makes millions.

Jazz in another story. Jazz was dying out in many ways when I was young, yet it is my favorite form of music. It inspires the way I teach.

I never valorize my generation to the expense of others. I am not a generationist, but I do mark trends and themes pertinent to age groups.

This is my last bleat on this topic here.

Christine said...

In your list of digital technologies that are dumbing down youth, you include social networks, cell phones, text messaging and so forth. How about (ahem) blogs?

RyanEaves said...


I wasn't trying to hurt your feelings. I was just pointing out that when you approach your interactions with others from a place of condescension, they sense that and will not respond favorably. But what do I know? I'm 29. Maybe when I am 40 I'll get some real insight.

I don't think us dudes said we were awesome. My point was just that we aren't any worse than you dudes, or the dudes before, or the dudes before. I choose not to see each generation as a decline because I choose to embrace change positively. Maybe instead of criticizing the youth for using MySpace and becoming immersed in their peer interactions, you should sign up yourself and give them another avenue to tap into your wisdom. Doug did something like that with his blog even though he criticizes the medium in general.


Self-criticism is not the same as self-loathing. Even with a few brown leaves, a green tree is still green overall. I believe that our generation has more green leaves than brown. I think that our generation is doing lots of great things to help society. We are the ones who are popularizing environmental issues, for instance. We are the ones making the world a more efficient place by streamlining communication, which, not to beat a dead horse, makes it easier for you to tap into Doug's insights. Spend some time at and you'll see that each year there are significantly more degrees than the year prior. The sky is not falling, chicken little.


I disagree that the mentioned technological phenomena necessarily decay one's ability to think. Yes, I want my children to be technologically proficient. As well as historically, politically, scientifically, socially, culturally, physically, and artistically. The difference is that I don't believe them to be mutually exclusive.


I have a friend who was homeschooled. She now resents the fact that she grew up sheltered from the culture and society that she now has to survive in. She has a hard time relating to her peers in a social setting because she grew up sheltered from certain cultural stimulus that was deemed trivial or damaging by her parents. My 'attitude' is simply one of diverse opinion and that is a dangerous reason to modify the organic nature of a child's progress in experiencing the world. I don't want to start an argument about the virtues and pitfalls of homeschooling. I believe it's your choice to homeschool or not. And I believe there are different approaches to doing it and perhaps yours is better than my anecdotal experience. I am only addressing this because I have seen what can be the result.


Have you considered that your message towards your students might carry less traction if from one side of your mouth you tell them that you are trying to make them wiser and better people while on the other side you are lumping them together as "media savvy" millennials who are ignorant of intellectual content? Your premise is that by doing one thing you can't do another, and I think you are subjecting young people to your own limiting belief.

Jasmine said...

Your post was inspired by a book that contains, “Don’t trust anyone under 30” in the title?
Are you kidding me? Aren’t you a professor? What is the percentage of students you teach that are younger than 30?
As a professor, shouldn’t you be trying to teach and encourage youth to strive to their utmost potential? You are entrusted to sculpt and mold young minds…not categorize us all as ignorant, media savvy adolescents who are obsessed with nothing more than clothing, pop music, television, and video games.

You feel that to be worthy of an intellectual conversation someone must know The 10 commandments? Can you name the 12 principles of Buddhism? Or the 8 incarnations of Ganesha?

In the description of your blog, you state, “Being a curmudgeon has nothing to do with rudeness or incivility.”
And yet in response to Mr. Eaves’ comment, you say, “Ryan exemplifies the attitudes that worry many: flippant, emotive, superficial, reactive.”
That’s not rude? Making this sort of a judgement on his character isn’t incivil?

Stephen J – “Youth is wasted on today's young.”
Just because someone doesn’t recoginze your rendion of a Gershwin tune doesn’t make them ignorant. If I sang the lyrics to a Death Cab For Cutie song, would you know the next line? If you didn’t, would I accuse you of being an idiot?
No, I would understand that not all generations (or individuals, for that matter) are going to be interested in the same type of music. I woulnd’t be so arrogant as to make a statement like, “Maturity is wasted on today’s elderly.”

Back to you Professor,
Your remedy?
“ Unplug, un-peer, read books, and listen and talk to your elders.”

I’d like to address each individualy:

As Mr. Eaves already pointed out, you are telling everyone to unplug…on a get that if we unplug, we can’t read your blog…right?

Jim Pemberton feels that the best way to do this is to homeshool is children.
The social skills that are learned in a classroom setting are invaluable.
Children need to learn how to deal with bullies, mean teachers, heartbreak, etc.
Rather than pulling your kids out of school, and possibly rendering them socially inept, why don’t spend more time focusing on what happens outside of school? To re-iterate Bill’s point, take some accountability and focus on the family.

Read books:
I agree! People should read more. But calling me ignorant and uneducated doesn’t inspire me to run out and buy books. It encourages me to STOP reading your blog.

Listen and talk to your elders:
Would it be better for me to speak with 45 year old serial-killer rather than a well-educated 25 year old, solely based on the fact that they are my elder? Maybe you should revise your statement to talk and listen to individuals (no matter their age) who can encourage, enlighten and teach them in a positive manner.

Lisabella said...

To all the intellectual behemoths,

Perhaps I am mistaken because I am simply a mindless "media savvy" 22 year old, but it appears to me that most of you believe that disassociating oneself from our media saturated society will eradicate, or at least curtail the ills of our society. May I remind most of you that the history of humankind has been dotted and stained by the “ills of mankind.” Whether it was vilifying intelligent women as witches (the Christians were the best at this) or labeling Africans and Native Americans as savages in need of conversion, people have always been determined to “save” those with viewpoints outside of their realm of knowledge. Perhaps that is why this blog is so terrifying. The professor believes that by eradicating our immense media access, speaking with our elders, and reading more we can become more educated and will achieve wisdom; well, I sincerely disagree.

First, in response to “un-plugging”:
Yes, we do spend immense amounts of time on MySpace, facebook, etc., but I feel the abundance of information available can only serve to better our youth. Yes, there are bomb making websites and a plethora of porn, but there are also websites in which people who do not have access to other parts of the world may reach there for the first time. We can interconnect with friends and family in other countries, or explore avenues that books cannot elucidate for us. I love books immensely, but would you rather me read a hate speech by some neo-Nazi, or read an essay on the current genocides in Africa online. Perhaps I am generalizing, but think about it (and yes I know not to end a sentence with a preposition).

Second, in response to the elders:
My grandfather was a an abusive alcoholic (which is quite prevalent in his generation) who brutally beat his children, impoverished them, but shit he sure did read a lot and went to church, so I should take his word as dogmatic law. I understand that our generation should be closer with our elders, but don’t generalize. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the professor’s friend because he thinks I’m stupid.

In regards to history:
A wise man once said that history and rhetoric thrive on contingent knowledge; simply, we know nothing of the past, future, and present because all are constantly changing. Socrates has a point. History is based in collective opinion and constantly evolves. Take for example how our current history books expose some of the atrocities committed by Americans against ourselves and others. I would argue that my elder’s history books were guised in patriotism, and were more inept in illustrating history than our stupid generation is; thankfully, today because of our mediums, we can access and ascertain multiple opinions of history, broadening our realm of knowledge.

Historically, we have not evolved that much. There have always been rapists, pedophiles, and people with improper grammar and paltry vocabularies, but have you taken into consideration that the number of dumb people in our society has not multiplied or exponentiated, but perhaps our new mediums simply expose them more.

My favorite teacher (a professor of Pop Culture, Society and Postmodernism who does not use his facebook page to vilify our youth) Brian (and yes he likes to be referred to by his first name) once said in lecture:

“Every generation is smarter than the next because every generation has access to more and better information than the last.”

Perhaps he is an idiot too.

Just because we choose to use our colloquialisms readily does not mean we are bereft of a good vocabulary. In retrospect, I truly love dropping an F-Bomb juxtaposed with the word placate.

Pps: The most messed up youth in this word do not come from technology driven cultures, but rather stem from those bereft of the Real World and pop culture. Perhaps if all the “genociders” in Africa and extremists in the Mid East watched The Hills, they would be much less stupid people.

Sarah Scott said...
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Sarah Scott said...

To my considerably perturbed peers,

I will refrain from repeating arguments that have already been given on this thread (that you may wish to thoughtfully consider or reconsider), but there is one apparent perception in particular that I wish to address.

Many of you are attempting to highlight the alleged irony between the charge to "unplug" and making such a charge on the blog medium.

There is no such contradiction here. At no point did Dr. Groothuis imply that we should "unplug" permanently, or that the computer directly and necessarily leads to stupification (though barring hard work to counteract the effects of the “digital age”, the latter argument can certainly be made convincingly). Rather, the claim as I understood it was that the ratio of "technology time" and shallow thinking to time invested in quality learning and intellectual development is horrifically skewed. We must consider *how* technology is used, and if it is being used wisely and responsibly. Many (rightly) believe that in general, it is not.

Yes, the internet is the "information super-highway". But at what point does mere information cease to be useful knowledge, or even knowledge at all? Musn't there also be (legitimate) critical thinking and development of analytical skills in order to truly *know* what are otherwise empty data and factoids? And how many of those factoids should be deemed worth knowing?

The issue, fellow millennials, is not that we use e-mail or blog, but it is rather that on the whole, we make the detrimental choice to not unplug as frequently as our cognitive faculties demand, and therefore, we are constantly choosing to be passive recipients of miles of data that is frequently only contemplated at a maximum depth of about an inch. Why shouldn't we study and listen to wisdom from elders and resources outside of cyberspace to then be able to truly learn in a way that no amount of technology will ever provide?

Jim Pemberton said...

First of all, the whole "it's stupid to post a blog vilifying the use of technology" argument that a couple of you made demonstrates that you missed his point. Sarah is right and I'll add to her argument. Technology is a tool. Tools are neither intrinsically good or bad. It's another matter to evaluate the effects of their usage.

I enjoy the instant availability of information on the Internet. For more formal considerations, I use this as means to discover leads to properly established references. For the rest, I seek thought-provoking communication.

The trends in social (public and cultural) education are alarming. History is increasingly revisionist. Science is politicized to the extent that a proper philosophical foundation for the scientific method is nonexistent. I could go on, but I hope you get the idea. As it is, I imagine that Dr. Groothuis likely observes that his students cannot tolerate the level of education that was once required. Why? Perhaps this:

Throughout history different cultures have cultivated different common presuppositional schools of thought. Most often, it is incomprehensible for nearly all from any one culture to apprehend the presuppositional foundations from another culture to the extent that if the presuppositions of one culture are aberrant or conflicting then those in that culture have a difficult time identifying it. For example, Existentialism from European philosophers flooded the US a hundred years ago or so to the extent that today Americans don't realize the extent is has distorted their thinking. It's not called existentialism anymore because it has changed somewhat, but it is in the roots of postmodern thinking.

In this vein, many people don't realize that the excessive distraction of Internet socialization normalizes isolation rather than promotes helpful intellectual growth. A metaphor:

I share Dr. Groothuis' love for jazz. As a pianist, I possess the capacity to improvise not merely on a progression, but to improvise the progression itself. In exploring this ability, I have found that I can blur so many chord changes together such that you can hardly tell that I'm making any changes. This is cool only for so long. There is no resolution because the progression becomes perpetual. What is needed is a temporal balance in the flow of the music so that there is clarity enough for resolution. This makes the music beautiful and useful.

Likewise, the problem with overusing the Internet is that is results in a lack of clarity of thought. Balance is required in the use of a tool. Unfortunately, this balance is incomprehensible to those who are vaguely aware of a time when no Internet existed. That happens to be the younger generations.

This summer, my wife and kids will once again descend on Venezuela for several weeks to minister there through a local church with whom we are associated. I'll join them for a week with a team of workers and ministers and then go on to London to minister to Muslims from Saudi Arabia.

We couldn't do this without some understanding that our culture is the exception rather than the rule. I don't shelter my kids in the least. They will be exposed to much more than you know as they have in previous years. However, I have prepared them by not allowing their minds to be over-exposed to the same garbage that generates the couch potato kids we see in the US these days. How to deal with bullies? I've taught them how not to be bullies, but rather to be the kind of people who can inspire bullies to change.

This, I believe, is the foundation of Dr. Groothuis' article.

RAD said...

I've just found this blog and am enjoying reading it. Sorry to get off-topic, but the copy-machine anecdote from stevej had me "LOL" (a phrase a bit out of my time).