Return From Technology Induced Hiatus

After I graduated from college, I slowly started to realize how easy it was to just stop learning. Sure I learned things at work and I was always getting hands-on learning experience on how to destroy your vehicle with the potholes in Morgantown, but I noticed my usual habits of constantly checking the news, reading, etc. had really started to diminish. I suddenly found myself watching more television and reading way less. When I would sit down to read a book, I would always find something that needed to be done immediately, which would result in more television. This went on for quite some time until I picked up a wonderful book written by Mark Bauerlein titled “The Dumbest Generation.”

The subtitle of this book, “How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future,” was enough to startle me, but it was actually the black and white disclaimer box that accompanied this statement that really got me thinking.

Don’t trust anyone under 30. Wow. What a statement. Now obviously I realized this was a comical way of stressing the importance of the information contained inside the book, but it still made me wonder what the older generations thought of young whipper snappers like myself who were  just entering the working world. I read on.

The information in this book is very data heavy, but I expected nothing less than this. Since the book was published in 2008, most of the studies are from 2005 and earlier, but are still very relevant to what the learning habits of teens and young adults are like today. Each chapter discussed the various types of technologies that are designed to aid and stimulate learning, but that actually act as more of a distraction. For example, have you ever heard of the term “e-literacy generation?” I hadn’t and I was shocked when I learned that this is what some are calling my generation. The term actually refers to a generation who do not know how to spell, write or do real research (yes, Google searches go beyond the first page) because of the aids that computer programs now offer. Need a synonym? Just press Shift + 7 and you’ll be good to go. Thanks to Microsoft Word, students and users no longer need to know how to properly spell a word; they just need to come as close as possible. Because of this, students and users have no need to properly speak and spell the English language.

Another chapter discusses the issues with online learning.

“When researchers, educators, philanthropists, and politicians propose and debate adjustments to education in the United States, they emphasize on-campus reforms such as a more multicultural curriculum, better technology, smaller class size, and so on. At the same time, however, the more thoughtful and observant ones among them recognize a critical, but outlying factor: much of the preparation work needed for academic achievement takes place not on school grounds but in informal settings such a s a favorite reading spot at home, discussion during dinner, or kids playing Risk or chess.”

This is where I really began to question my own learning from years past. When I was growing up, I too was discovering the Internet instead of reading the classics and I too was probably worrying too much about missing my favorite television shows when I could have been working on overcoming my issues with mathematics. It made me really wonder how I ended up making the grades that I did. It also really helped me understand why I only excelled in the areas I felt most comfortable (reading, writing, history) and remained average in other subjects that gave me trouble (science and math). Now of course I’m not suggesting I regret having so much experience with computers (actual computers, not just the ability to Google while simultaneously chatting on multiple social media sites) growing up, but I do wish I would have known that the time I spent sitting on my duff surfing the net could have better been spent expanding my knowledge.

Which finally brings me back home to the main issue I couldn’t shake after reading this book: I don’t read enough. Kids don’t read enough. Young adults don’t read enough! According to Bauerlein, in the Pew Research Center’s 2006 report on newspaper readership, only 39 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they “enjoy reading a lot,” far less than the national average of 53 percent, and a harbinger of worse numbers to come. Bauerlein  also pulled data from the National Survey of Student Engagement that showed in 2005, only 16 percent of high school seniors read between five and ten books “for personal enjoyment or academic enrichment.” That number was 3 percent less in high school freshmen. Although I grew up being labeled an “avid reader,” I saw a significant drop in my reading habits when I entered high school as well. This was in 2002, right around the time that Internet connection speeds became a little faster and Myspace was sweeping Lewis County High School.

SIDEBAR: This was also the year I became a raging conformist with a strong desire to make everyone like me. Not proud, but honest.

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Sadly, it has taken me close to nine years to realize that Al Gore’s wonderful brainchild, the Internet, has been slowly sucking my ability to have the focus to sit down and read like I used to. I have spent countless evenings at home surfing Facebook when I could have been tearing through the pages of all of those books I said “I’d get around to reading” and could have been listening to classical music (which has been proven to enhance the retention of knowledge) instead of trying to ignore The Real World reruns I just “had” to leave on. However, thanks to the wonderful work of Mark Bauerlein, I now realize I am only harming myself by not spending my spare time doing activities that actually require some thought and that will really help broaden my cultural horizons.

Here are a few ways I sneak in some “brain time” when I have a jam-packed day:

  • I read books on my iPad while I get my 40 minutes of cardio in on the elliptical.
  • Instead of turning on a sitcom at night, I’ll opt for 30 minutes of CNN.
  • When I don’t have time to get away for lunch at work, I’ll spend my break reading news articles about subjects I’m unfamiliar with.
  • When walking outside, I’ll try to listen to jazz or classical music instead of the latest Rihanna tune.
Basically, take a break from technology. It will always be around and you won’t lose anything by logging off Facebook for a day or so. Pick up a book and enjoy the slow unraveling of the plot, as well as the use of that thing we all used to have: an imagination.

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