Back In My Day, We Didn't Have These Young Whippersnappers With Their Facebooks And Their Googles

from the where's-my-sliderule? dept

It looks like Nick Carr is actually a bit late to the game in blaming the internet for making people dumb these days. Someone else is coming out with an entire book called The Dumbest Generation, which claims that today’s kids are totally screwed up thanks to the internet. This book has received enthusiastic reviews from folks, such as a Chicago Sun Times columnist, trotting out the modern version of the “those young whippersnappers” lines. The evidence? The fact that kids use the internet more to communicate with others, rather than to suck at the teat of the established “authoritative” media.

Romenesko, however, points us to a fantastic response from another reporter, Steve Rhodes, who points out how dumb it is to call this generation dumb thanks to the internet. In fact, he makes the point quite clear, by noting that the idea that the established media, such as the Chicago Sun Times, is somehow a bastion of intelligence is easily debunked:

And I’m not sure where a Sun-Times columnist gets off complaining that the Internet is dumbing down America while the paper is running a “Which Team’s Fans Are Hotter?” contest.

As for all that communication going on? That helps make people smarter:

I’m a Facebook fan. It’s very powerful, and I’ve hardly begun to exploit all of its capabilities…. I feel smarter after spending time on Facebook; I feel dumber after reading the local newspapers….

He then gets the other columnist to admit that he’s never even seen Facebook, despite bashing it as being a terrible thing for kids to be using all the time.

I’m not trying to pick on Lazare – well, actually I am – but he’s emblematic of a newspaper creature that is just beyond me. See, he didn’t want to know what he was talking about. He just didn’t want to know….

But newspapers went off the rails at just the moment the Internet flourished as an even better place to do journalism and communicate with people. It should have been a glorious melding of the minds for a better, more creative and fun and civically inspired tomorrow, but all newspaper people could see was the threat, not the opportunity.

So, again, just as with every generation, there will be a group of folks who complain that today is somehow worse, and “back in my day” things were somehow better. None of it’s true. Things change, the world adapts — and if you choose not to, things may seem worse, but it isn’t in any real objective sense. But, in the meantime, for those folks who are scared of change and afraid of actually recognizing how the changing world is full of opportunities, it means there’s an opportunity to sell silly books with provocative headlines. Moral outrage ahead! The kids are using Facebook rather than flipping baseball cards and throwing jacks!

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Comments on “Back In My Day, We Didn't Have These Young Whippersnappers With Their Facebooks And Their Googles”

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yogi says:

Things indeed change but

I think it is fair to say that we are witnessing a lot of changes for the better – there is a lot more personal freedom and a lot more opportunities for the individual than were available a generation ago.

It is this new freedom from authority and the established way of doing things that seems threatening to people like this Nick Carr and to the old farts in Congress. They’d much rather be in control of everybody all the time.
Hopefully they won’t get their wish!

Matt says:

damn kids these days...

It certainly appears from what I have heard from teachers and professors that “kids these days” don’t have the logical and reasoning skills of “people their age.” But perhaps the real issue us that the average person never has been well-educated in logic and reason, but it never mattered much because information moved much more slowly and access was far more restricted.
These days the average person has immediate access to all kinds of information, but I suspect the majority lack the critical thinking skills to research beyond conclusions which reinforce what they already hold as true.
I do believe that we are raising a generation of sociopaths, and that scares the crap out of me. Toddlers should be playing with Lincoln Logs, not a “learning laptop.” They should wait until they are at least 6 before they are force fed information.

lisa says:

Re: damn kids these days...

I think the real question is: why can’t kids do both? Why is this an either or discussion? One is not bad, while the other is good. I agree that if society becomes a group a people who cannot interact without a keyboard and cannot stand the thought of being away from their computer for more than an hour we are headed down a very wrong road. But where would we be without advances in technology (e.g. the internet) to make our lives more efficient and thus grant us the time to be more diverse and well-rounded? You can have your blogging and then go hike. You can order exactly what you want on your pizza in 5 minutes and have it printed in front of the person making it instead of spending 20 minutes on the phone with the company and having it end up wrong a majority of the times (based on personal experience). I disagree that people are not educated in simple cognitive and reasoning skills because of the internet. I believe that this is because our society is turning very lazy and thinking takes energy – metabolically if nothing else. We should be challenging those around us to think – whether that challenge come via a blog, conversation, letter or western union telegram.

And why 6 years? Cognitively, humans’ brains are not fully developed – last development occurs in the frontal lobe, which is responsible for reasoning and logic – until about 21 years of age.

Matt says:

Re: Re: damn kids these days...

I was being facetious with the age 6 comment; that’s about the time the government forces parents to school kids, so we get a free pass to be completely oblivious to the world until then.
I am most worried that being brought up from such a young age with such busy schedules will stifle a kid’s ability to see the beauty in wholly non-productive pursuits. The message we are sending kids is that they need to Kaizen every process in their life. No wasted movements! Screw that. Sometimes my dog likes to roll around in the grass (not on dead earthworms), so I tried it with him. It was fun. No ends, just means.
I have no problem with technological advances. In fact, I love them. No modern-day Luddite here. Hell, I read Techdirt. If I hated technology I would just read regular dirt. But I prefer to call the pizza joint because I like interacting with people, and that also gives them a chance to suggest something I may otherwise not have tried.
As I stated, I do not think the internet is responsible for kids lacking logic and reasoning skills; I don’t think those skills have been properly taught in school since before I started (late 70s). But while the internet has the ability to give us all the information we need to become smarter, it can not unless we use it properly. A kid who can’t effectively research a topic in a library still can’t effectively research a topic on the internet.
“There are now three ways to do things: the right way, the wrong, and the Max Power way.”
“Isn’t that just the wrong way?”
“Yes, only faster!”

Techno Mage (profile) says:

Re: blaming the Net

The only thing I’ve seen from the internet is it’s ability to prove how dumb some of the older models used to be. The internet has made the new generation act locally, but think globally. I remember, close to the dawn of the ‘net, that we, as americans, were terrified of the russians. We thought, at the time, that every russian was akin to the al queda we have today. But then the younger generation, through the power of the net, realized that it wasn’t the people, it was the governments. The people were just like us. The younger generation broke through the social stigmas that had been ingrained the year prior through the new education medium called the net. We are more globally aware now then we ever were before. If we want to know something about a particular country, all we have to do is look for someone from that country on any of the social sites and find out first-hand, instead of literary propaganda. We also found out that “newspapers” were biased news. I can now go to newspapers from around the world and get a better objective viewpoint of what goes on in the states, than I ever could from local or national papers. The internet making the younger generation dumber? No, I think it is changing the way the younger people think, and that, in turn, is making the older generation FEEL dumber.

bailey (profile) says:

its happened before - remember generation X?

Generation X. The generation of people who were supposed to be the laziest slackers ever created, who just didn’t do much.

Interestingly enough they were also the generation of the Internet boom, and the 80hr work weeks in the name of stock options and the redefining of the corporate world.

It happens every decade with every generation. There was never a “greatest generation” There was and are just people who are forced to do things in the name of survival.

Mike says:


Let’s think. The generation that wrote the book created the cold war, were mostly racist, and thought a distant pen pal was one from Arkansas.

Today the borders that parents still try to create are brought down by the internet. Pen pals are on IM and chat in China, Germany, Korea, Vietnam and all other places the older generations are afraid of. Globalization happens at a young age and is not a topic taught while getting your 4th degree at age 67.

Not all is bad! I personally can’t wait to see my kids grow up with their “new way of thinking” and see how the world changes.

John Wilson (profile) says:

Re: Global

To be fair, I don’t think the author of the book was even alive in the immediate post World War II era when the Cold War got underway.

To be equally fair, racist though most of us boomers were a large number of us fought against it and, to one degree or another overcame our own learned racism.

Heck, a Pen Pal from 200 miles away was distant in the 50s because people didn’t travel the way they do today.

In a couple of the “reviews” on Amazon it appears that the author of the book spends an inordinate amount of time setting up and explaining the research on his complaints about the Internet and comes to a couple of not so startling conclusions.

One. Parents don’t spend enough time with their kids or include them in adult conversation as the get older.

That’s simply another shot at the too too busy parent who would rather work than spend time with thier offspring. A common enough observation these days and, like all sweeping generalizations, true enough as far as it goes.

The other side of that is that these same parents indulge their children far too much to keep them out from under foot.

Two. These children, adolescents really, don’t seek out sites on politics, law, economics and so on.

Newsflash! I didn’t read newspaper articles on those subjects either until I got engaged by something or someone in those fields that got me drawn in. I still didn’t go to newspapers for anything beyond the surface. Newspapers, outside of long columns on the subjects, are all about surface. Not detail.

Our horizons were small because our sources were small. Surprise, surprise!

So the world has changed in the last 20 years since the World Wide Web got invented and exploded onto the scene.

The kids get it. The writer of the book doesn’t.

Show me a teenager from any era who would, voluntarily, seek out dry articles on economics and law, political science or any other number of esoteric and remote subjects.

There are, from their point of view, much more pressing things to do and deal with. Like growing up and becoming adults. (Even though they’re never going to describe it that way any more than I did.)

The Web provides wide horizons. Other net services like IM or IRC offer the ability to “speak” to others who are distant beyond their parents belief and the precious opportunity to learn young that people are just people no matter where they come from.

We adults and old farts need to relearn some things too. How to relax, how to play and how to drop our dull monochrome views of ourselves and the universe.



Jennifer says:

that may be true, but...

I completely agree that the internet is not necessarily making my generation and younger dumb. However, if you haven’t noticed technology is taking away some of the typical socializing skills such as small talk. Why, you ask? Because in situation “back in the day” when people took a chance and talked to a stranger on a bus or what not, they now text message and listen to their ipod. I admit I this too, because it’s awkward to suddenly start talking to someone you don’t really know.

Maybe we do not necessarily need those skills anymore though – or minimally need them. Since we have the technology to communicate via the internet or cell phones, maybe it’s ok that some basic communication skills are lost. Overall, I think similar to the article, it may not be a good thing; however, it’s certainly not bad…it’s just different.

Apennismightier says:

Re: that may be true, but...

If anything, the internet is creating different types of social skills. The most annoying, and probably what most people consider to be a sign of someone who has been “dumbed down” by the internet, would be when teeny bopper girls use ROFL or LOL is every day normal conversation.

Otherwise, I think the internet is by far enhancing the relationships between people all over the world, and creating more ways for social connection. You “old timers” need to realize that not all socialization needs to be done face to face… and if so, then we’ve got some streaming video feeds on Skype, Yahoo, or whatever else for you if you HAVE to see the person you’re speaking to.

Change with the times or get left behind.

Ralph says:

Re: that may be true, but...

How do you meet new people, if you find it “awkward to suddenly start talking to someone you don’t really know?” Do you randomly send text messages, hoping that someone will respond and become your friend? I don’t agree that the Internet is making younger people dumber, but it certainly is curtailing their social abilities in the real world. If you’re on a bus with 20 other people, do you just sit with your head down, busily text messaging and listening to your iPod, or do you ever maybe look up, crack a smile and say “Hi, how are you?” to anyone? Seriously, how do you meet new people and make new friends, if you’re afraid the take a chance and talk to a stranger? Are you only able to meet friends through the internet? I’ve made lots of friends through the internet, and have met many of them in person. But, by and large, most of the people I know I’ve met in person, by doing something really, really scary like saying “Hi, how are you?”

Rose M. Welch says:

Re: that may be true, but...

“However, if you haven’t noticed technology is taking away some of the typical socializing skills such as small talk.”

I have noticed and I thank God for that, because there are few things I hate like people I don’t know spouting their half-formed opinions at me and expecting me to agree, or at least smile and nod, because of small talk ‘etiquette’.

Text messages and mp3 players didn’t evolve in spite of all that wonderful small talk; it was at least partially because of it. It’s the modern day newspaper-in-front-of-your-face-on-the-subway tactic. 🙂 Hey! Yet another thing we don’t need print media for! Take that, crappy hometown newspaper that tells me very little about my hometown!

Snarl Greywolf says:

Times change, but is it for the better?

Technology is great, and kids today are inundated by it in every aspect of their life. What they need isn’t to rebuke technology in favor of books, newspapers, board games, etc. What kids today need is balance. For that matter, everyone today needs balance. We need technology and communication. We need eBay and MySpace. We need the Internet and Digital TV. But, we also need exercise, fresh air, face-to-face communication, and courtesy to others. That is the balance we don’t have. Most kids today are more rude, disgustingly fat from sitting on the computer all the time, and always looking for the easy answer.

What kids today need to learn is that you can’t google life. You need to live it.


YouGottaLoveIt says:

I'm an old guy who loves the web 2.0

Internet schmitternet….

Slang of any given generation, mine, yours or theirs, has never been approved by or generally understood by the older generations. That’s the point. That’s life. That’s language development evolution and our children attempting to be different then those that came before them. All good things.

As for the internet being the bane of society, the same was said for TV, Radio and even the telegraph.

If we as humans failed to move forward developing and using newly developed communications mechanisms we all would never have even begun doing cave drawings or petroglyphs never would have been used, let alone the telephone or the written word.

Personally, I find it all exciting. I am full of anticipation to see what will be here 20 years from now, if I am still alive that is…..

This cat’s headin’ for splitsville man……

Brian (user link) says:

I actually agree with Carr

Now, before I get started, I want to inform you that I’m 22, a web developer, and spend the majority of my time sitting in front of a computer, blogging and doing everything else my generation does that makes us dumber.

I agree that there are many things on the internet that increase our knowledge, make us smarter, and all of that good jazz.

Most of the people reading this blog are mad at Carr, and responding hatefully to his facebook/google bashing, because a lot of us are considered “power-users”. We use the internet for information, to improve it, to make it a better place; however, many of us simply ignore the fact that not everyone uses the internet like us.

Teenagers, and many individuals my age, only use the internet to check out the latest posts on their friends’ facebook/myspace profiles, or checking out YouTube. They do nothing productive… These are the people who say “L-O-L” in real life (which urks me to all get out). Why do you have to say “L-O-L”? You say LOL online because it means that you are laughing out loud. I can’t see or hear you, so I don’t know if you’re laughing. If you say LOL in real life and you’re not laughing, you’re negating everything the acronym stands for, and just look stupid. But I digress…

They are stupid and have no inter-personal skills that are essential to anyone NOT getting into the Tech industry. They don’t know how to have a conversation outside of their IM/Social Networking programs and sites. They can’t make eye-contact when engaging in conversation. They look around, and not directly at you, because face-to-face “confrontations”, as it seems they feel it is, make them uncomfortable.

They also have TERRIBLE writing skills. I have people who send me professional e-mails with no punctuation, no capitalization, and a lot of acronyms that I have never seen in my life. Who needs grammar and spelling when you can simply slam your fist on the keyboard a half a dozen times, call it “internet speak” and click send?

The next time you’re in public, try to talk to someone my age that you don’t know. They will either completely ignore you, or act as shy as a toddler meeting someone for the first time, wishing their mother was there so they can hide their face in her leg.

It’s truly embarrassing for me to see that.

Rose M. Welch says:

Re: I actually agree with Carr

Umm… Very possibly the symptoms of which you speach are regional because I don’t see that here at all. I am 22, am also a web developer, also work part-time in a mall and I see a ton of teenage social interation on a daily basis and I don’t see most of what you’re talking about. Actually, I don’t see any of it.

The crappy unprofessional e-mails? Yeah, I get them. From people over the age of 25. I don’t generally receive business e-mail from people under that age, but I’m sure they’d be the same and it has nothing to do with the Internet being available; it has to do with the ignorance of adults. They would use the same mispellings, poor grammer, and non-existant punctuation in a hand-written note. The social surfing? My 30-and-older co-workers check thier posts and replies just as much as the teenagers I know.

So it seems that the Internet symptoms are shared by young and old alike, and the social symptoms are non-existant in at least some areas of the United States.

Brian (user link) says:

Re: Re: I actually agree with Carr

There are various different ways I can combatant your argument. I could say,
a) You don’t pay attention
b)You use it yourself and are easily offended by someone else’s opinion on the internet.
c) You’re lying
d) You’re in denial over how dumb our generation is (and the generation after us)
e) You don’t have the internet where you live

If I don’t see some teenage chick driving in her car, texting, putting on eye-liner, checking her e-mail on her PDA, and smoking a cigarette all at one time at least 5 times a day I’m in shock.

^ Those were for your first comment… It’s everywhere. I’ve traveled this great country and encounter it from the most urban areas to the most rural.

Maybe e-mail is a bad example… I do, however, get what are supposed to be professional e-mails from people my age and younger. I’m a web developer for my college, and I look at resume’s and cover letters that we get from applicants. Last time I checked there is no such thing as a “relaxed” or “informal” cover letter. Yet I’ve seen LOL’s, I’ve seen grammar mistakes my 11 year old nephew wouldn’t make… I’ve seen it all.

But you also realize that OUR generation is up to the age of 35-40 right now, right? 25-30 is our generation. If not, they would be 3-8 when they had us… not possible.

But I do get e-mails like that from older people, so that’s why it might be a bad example…

But ALL writing, not just typing, is a bastardization of the English language.

Kids these days put too much trust in spell/grammar check… which is wrong about 80% of the time. They are DEPENDENT on it.

I will put my entire life savings on this following statement:

Within 2 generations… My children’s children… Kids will still be walking through malls, but it will be deathly quiet inside. Instead of talking – they won’t know how to any more – they’ll be texting the person standing directly next to or in front of them. The only words they will mutter will be “You get text? I send text. Why you never do get none of my text?! I can haz cheezeberger?”

BTW.. I ownz all ur comment.

Rose M. Welch says:

Re: Re: Re: I actually agree with Carr

a) You don’t pay attention

You could, but I could say the same of you. There’s no way to prove that via the Internet.

b)You use it yourself and are easily offended by someone else’s opinion on the internet.

Use what? Social networking sites? So what if I did? I’m not the one saying that there’s something wrong with that. But you’re welcome to Google my name and see if any MySpace or Facebook pages come up.

c) You’re lying

Once again, you could be, also. No way to know.

d) You’re in denial over how dumb our generation is (and the generation after us)

Once again, you could be in denial about how social kids are today. Or you could live in a quiet area… No way to know on the Internet.

e) You don’t have the internet where you live

I guess that’s possible because I’m submitting this comment with my Jedi mind powers.

But you also realize that OUR generation is up to the age of 35-40 right now, right? 25-30 is our generation. If not, they would be 3-8 when they had us… not possible.

What the hell does that mean? Does that mean that you’re thirty-five to forty years old and you think I am also? If so, how are we also twenty-five to thirty years old? Huh? Three to eight what? Are you talking about our parents now?

Look, buddy, I’m twenty-two. My generation is composed of people who were born in between 1980 and 1989. Which makes the oldest of my generation twenty-eight years old and the youngest nineteen years old. So I’m not sure what that whole paragraph is supposed to mean…

What makes you think that your eleven year old relative wouldn’t make the same mistakes as the people who are older and have received the same education? If your relative received a better education, then you’ve answered your own question about dumbness, and the answer was education, not technology.

Where do you get your spelling and grammar statistics from? Please cite your source. Hint: Funny cats don’t make reliable sources. Although they are funny. And so are you, especially when you complain about Internet lingo, bad grammar, and horrific punctuation and then use all three liberally.

So I guess that means you’re owned, instead? If so, you can have yourself back. I don’t want you.

Editor of your mother (user link) says:

Re: Re: I actually agree with Carr

Umm… Very possibly the symptoms of which you speach are regional because I don’t see that here at all.

They would use the same mispellings, poor grammer, and non-existant punctuation in a hand-written note. The social surfing? My 30-and-older co-workers check thier posts and replies just as much as the teenagers I know.


That’s speak, misspellings, grammar, existent, and their.

Old Fart.... says:


Get off my lawn!

Stuff costs more than it used to!!

My social security check is late!!!

Seriously, damn whipper snappers! I agree that many of the younger generation need a hell of a lot more common sense. But take it a step back to their parents. While its true that they want to do better by their kids then they were, they are screwing them up by spoiling them with every little thing they can buy them, and protecting them everything. Hell, kids can’t go for a bike ride to their friends house with out wearing at least a dozen form of protective pads. Let them fall off their bikes and get road rash the way god intended it!!! This is how we learn.

And no, not every kid is a winner. Most suck at a lot of things and need to be told so. Instead of cottling them into growing up to be a mediocre dumb ass at his choice of careers, he should have been encouraged to do where and what he/she truly shows a gift for.

Guess what folks, I wanted to be a fighter pilot for the Marine Air Corps, but I ended up driving and commanding tanks, and later my gift at systems administration took over. so I became a successful network and systems admin.

Sometimes being what they want to be isn’t the best choice for what they are truly meant to be in life.

No wonder today people marvel at mediocre actors, music that really sucks, and lame movies. A world of mediocrity exists where the press is so lame that they have to invent the news or report on some poor local shmuck that fell off his chair. Sites like MySpace and Facebook only prove my point. Not everyone should be taking pictures of themselves for the world to see. You never know what you might regret doing later in life.

Jason Phillips (user link) says:

Who's the Dumbest?

It’s ignorant to assume that the under 30 crowd is anything but smarter, faster, and more intelligent than the rest of us. Through his fretting over the advertising industry, Lazare has even given us proof. Advertizers are doing worse and worse, because their targets are getting better, and better at avoiding their content. In short, the advertisers are being outsmarted. Now, which generation is supposed to be “Dumbest?”

inc says:

If kids are dumb these days it’s because you’ve got school boards basically sucking money from all kinds of programs for personal gain. Then you are left with fewer teachers which are frustrated and underpaid. Now the only way for schools to get more money is to pass this stupid FCAT; so that’s all the teacher teach… is how to pass the FCAT. So now kids are incapable of critical thinking and just know how to beat a multiple choice test. The bottom line is teachers need to care about how kids learn and how to get them interested in learning. If you get kids really wanting to learn then it becomes easier to get them to do so.

KD says:

Not everything new is better ...

I apologize if this has been said above in other comments, but I’m short on time and could only skim them.

Sometimes it is true that new things are better. Sometimes it isn’t true. Mike’s last paragraph seems to take the position that everything new is better. I believe that is an overstatement.

I’m not making a statement about the worth of any of the new things under discussion here — just that, in general, some new things are only fads and aren’t really better than the old things. I agree that unthinking rejection of the new is not smart nor justified. But unthinking rejection of the old isn’t smart, either.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Not everything new is better ...

Sometimes it is true that new things are better. Sometimes it isn’t true. Mike’s last paragraph seems to take the position that everything new is better. I believe that is an overstatement.

I made no such statement. I’m merely pointing out that new things open up new opportunities. It’s neither better nor worse.

Wait so... says:

Wait, so literate 14 year olds with ambition and motivation for their work are the future of the society?
I’ve always been afraid of what is to come, and as a high school student I know the “average” student better than most of you. I’ve been told to simplify my work on politics and not go in depth with Chinese government because I’m “displaying to a year eight class”. I was surprised in year 6 when people kept repeating the same adjectives and using three of the former to describe the same thing. Ex. “Gooey, warm, melting chocolate”

Also, I disagree with some of you. No matter I’m Australian, I actually spend quite a while on the computer playing games and I am within my optimum weight/height ratio, and I use “LOL” in everyday sentences, but yet you see me writing this piece. I complete all my work on time and get As and Bs.
I never use spell check, but I always use the computer to write. I can spell and punctuate, although my handwriting is a bit shaky because I have Dysgraphia. I also regularly take part in adult conversations.

What I’m trying to say is, didn’t your generation have couch potatos and druggies who turned out on the lower side of society?
Surely there’s an exception to every rule.

someguy says:

i understand both sides. and forgive my punctuation and spelling. when you give a kid what i call 18 a shovel i expect him how to use it. i don’t expect him to be texting all day instead of working. so the internet and social media is so great one day it will build our roads, houses, offices. if it’s out there i have done it. i like to build my own pc because it’s fun. the newer generation they love it but who cares how it works. but they also need to know how to work for a living if they need to. if you can’t use a tool it’s useless. and a computer and an iphone aren’t the only tools out there. hammer you know what that is? tape measure can you read it? we still need skills. other wise you’ll fail in this failing economy.

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