It’s not hard to predict where I fall in the debate over whether technology has made ‘millennials'—or the group of people born in the mid-'80s to about the year 2000—the smartest or dumbest generation to date, which was the question at hand at a recent luncheon hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, considering that I am a millennial.
Mark Bauerlein, who wrote a book called The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future—Or Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30, not surprisingly (considering that title) took the side that this generation of kids has become more self-obsessed and fixated on “youth issues,” crowding out time for intellectually stimulating activities like reading and debating important issues. Neil Howe, author of the book Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, took the position that students these days have higher SAT scores and lower pregnancy and crime rates, and that millennials are more involved in complex activities—like building robots and competing in science fairs—than any previous generation.
It’s a little difficult not to be offended by Bauerlein’s blanket statements about the intellectual capacity of millennials, but looking at it as objectively as possible, I can see how some of the technological developments that have occurred in the past 20 years or so have the potential to feed into a self-obsessiveness that could damage the worldview of this generation. But as far as I can tell, the teenage years have always been a fairly self-focused time in Americans’ lives, no matter what generation you’re from. I’m not sure that’s something that technology has brought about in and of itself, although I do think it has the capacity to feed such trends.
From my point of view, in a lot of ways the Internet and other technological developments have made it even easier for young people to research and build on the ideas of those who have come before. Of course, there are examples of both kinds of people that Bauerlein and Howe describe, but I have a hard time believing that technology alone has made them that way.
It’s an interesting debate, and well worth the read. Also, check out the videos of Bauerlein and Howe included in the story.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.