Generation Dunce: Why multitasking has made us dumber

One January afternoon this year, my roommate found me reading in the living room. She asked, “Are you studying already?” I responded, “No, I’m just reading.” I’ll never forget the quizzical look on her face – presumably the same look that the Spanish conquistadors had when they stumbled upon the Aztecs some 500 years ago.

Yet, statistically speaking, her bewilderment at finding me reading actually makes more sense than my enjoyment of the written word. My generation simply doesn’t read. The average 15-24 year old spends an average of eight miniscule minutes a day reading. The culprit for this literary phobia is multitasking. Simply put, multitasking has ruined our entire generation’s attention span. These sentiments are mirrored in Mark Bauerlein’s book, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.

Bauerlein, an English professor at Atlanta’s Emory University, argues that the instantaneous nature of technology has all but ruined my generation’s ability for serious, contemplative, linear thought. The result is a “brazen disregard for books and reading.”

In theory, the Internet provides a seemingly endless resource for education, learning and political action. Yet, that is precisely the opposite of what we actually use the World Wide Web for.

“The ignorance is hard to believe,” says Bauerlein. “It isn’t enough to say that these young people are uninterested in world realities. They are actively cut off from them.”

It appears that most university professors would side with Bauerlein. A study conducted in the United States found that only six per cent of university professors say that students today enter their classrooms “well-prepared” in writing. Well, no shit! Writing requires serious, contemplative, linear thought. It requires the ability to think about a topic and then expand that thought into a logical argument. What professors see in the essays of today’s university students are a series of disjointed paragraphs without any coherent flow. Why? Because once a student has completed a paragraph, they’re compelled to log onto Facebook and “like” a picture of their friend flexing his muscles in a “Tapout” tee.

Certain friends of mine at this school write all of their essays in groups of four or five while sitting together at a table. These essays are written while instant messaging, looking at pictures on Facebook and gossiping amongst themselves. Group writing didn’t work for the American Constitution, and I very much doubt that Thomas Jefferson was harvesting his virtual crop on Farm Town while separating Church and State.

Still, I used to think that multitasking was a talent that they possessed and I simply did not. After all, this very rant you’re reading was composed while I was locked in my bedroom for two hours with three cups of coffee. In reality, my friends at the “essay round table” probably don’t possess powers of multitasking either.

According to the online journal, Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 2.5 per cent of people can multitask without performing worse at either task. This 2.5 per cent have been dubbed “supertaskers.” I doubt that the average Laurier Brantford student that simultaneously uses her laptop to both take notes and look at pictures of celebrities without their makeup falls into this slender minority.

Nowhere are the disturbing realities of my multitasking generation more prevalent than in the classroom. Specifically, that dreaded silence when a professor asks a simple question and every pair of eyes are glued to their own computer screen.

Apparently, I’m one of the few university students that aren’t immune to this horribly awkward lack of exchange. The rest of my colleagues feel more than comfortable letting profs twist in the wind with pained looks on their faces for some 20 seconds until they give up and answer the question themselves.

When a professor tries to remedy this situation by banning laptops, the hyperbolic Nazi Germany comparisons are instantaneously posted by students on social networking sites. We are a generation whose drug of choice is multitasking and we refuse to kick the habit.

I leave you with an unedited Facebook status of a Laurier Brantford student from my collection of “Ironic Facebook Statuses” that sums up this phenomenon more poignantly than I ever could: “why do i bother with this class! …… were seriously learning about grammar.”

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