Is Generation Z in Peril?
That question was on everyone’s mind last night as the Central Library hosted Dr. Mark Bauerlein, English professor at Emory University in Atlanta, and author of The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future. A controversial title to say the least, but it does make us ask ourselves if we are at a point within the Digital Age that technology might be hurting more than it’s helping young and developing brains.
About 60 parents and teens attended the lecture by Dr. Bauerlein and had we been able to do it, the discussion could have gone on for hours. The discussion brought up a potentially difficult notion to address: are teens so connected to technology that they are not learning how to communicate or connect with people beyond their social networks? Haven’t we all wondered about this at some point? How many times have we sat in a restaurant and seen teens (and even adults) staring down at their smart phones and not engaging the real people at their own table?
As Dr. Bauerlein addressed these points, there were many nodding heads – adult nodding heads. While it is entirely probable that the teens in the room didn’t feel the same way, one can hope that they understood why some points were being made. For example, Dr. Bauerlein discussed how some of the teens in his classes at Emory rely so heavily on their connectivity within social media and networks that they feel a sense of relief leaving his classroom for the mere opportunity to check calls, texts and Facebook. Do we notice this to be true in the young people in our own lives? Possibly. Bauerlein also commented that he has personally noticed how there may be a lack of interest by young people about the world beyond their friends on social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Is today’s technology deluding young minds? Are they even able to retain knowledge they should be acquiring from educators or newspapers and books? Is the technology shortening attention spans? Parents may say yes. Teens may make the argument that they are able to retain more information because they are mastering the skill of multi-tasking. Maybe that’s true. Let’s be honest; we learned differently from our parents. Did how we learned seem foreign to our parents and this new wave of learning is now just foreign to us as parents? Yes, no, probably, possibly, maybe. Aren’t these all correct answers? Is there something to worry about with our young people? That’s a tough question to answer. Perhaps all we can – and should – do is our best to balance technology with real life experiences. Family dinners with no TV and walks or other outings that don’t require a Facebook check-in can only help to build our teens into well-rounded adults. And in the end, isn’t that what matters more?
Special thanks to Dr. Mark Bauerlein for traveling to San Antonioand spending time with us at Central Library to engage the community in this important discussion.