Dumbing down of America?

It is fashionable to write and talk about the fact that the younger generations are getting dumber (Bauerlein, for ex.) or the fact that the idea of anti-intellectualism has been around in the US for a good while (see https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201407/anti-intellectualism-and-the-dumbing-down-america) – and this symptom will surely be repeated throughout the world, since the US/Anglo-hegemony is rampant. However, the problem is much more complex and it encompasses not only schooling, but also sociological threads that bind us as humans.
1) Digital media allow more people to participate in all the artistic and scientific activities: publish on the Internet and you (think you) made it. In the past, publishing was a castle which had gatekeepers who stopped what they thought was worthless crap from sprouting and proliferating, whether produced for printed or audio-visual enjoyment and learning. Clearly, the gatekeepers, being human, were not exhibiting flawless and generally objective behaviour, but on the whole, the scheme worked pretty well. Nowadays, no gatekeepers (other than profit-seekers or certain legal rules) ban our “publishing” activities.
2) In the past, schools were not for everyone, which meant that there was a base – or better, a canon – of knowledge that schooled persons shared, propagated, built on. The rest of the people, as intelligent as they may have been, did not participate in this process, only in so far as they promoted more schooling for their children. Of course, this system’s flaws are obvious and have been examined thoroughly by Marxist, feminist, critical analysts. Since national states have been generally abandoning the idea of state-run schools, learning is becoming an individual matter, prone to follow hype, or religious and other precepts.
3) Narratives (be they audio-visual or printed) have always been an intrinsic part of human existence, and they will persist to be so. The new media, however, promoting speed and quick flux of one idea/image at a time, do not support the slow digesting of a complex narrative. Being a literary “voyeur” (where a whole imaginative edifice accompanies the “who what where when” or “who done it” process) is different from posting your selfie on Facebook or on other platforms – the selfie is devoid of the narrative phenomenon, except for the originator of it. Reading a novel (i.e. getting the whole picture) is not being promoted by the new technologies. But reading of a more complex type (literary, scientific) has never been the part and parcel of every human on the planet.
The conclusion? It is obvious that until the Internet is used mostly to sell things, the idea that the human world is being dumbed down will persist. We as humans have to agree on what to set as the intellectual base on which we build our edifice. We cannot expect schools, as they exist now, to do this.


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