The dumbing of America.

      Blogs spew forth, in largely unedited form, the crude observations of people who are often unable to express
themselves coherently in writing and are as inept as the virtual conversational skills required for online ex-
changes as they must be at face-to-face communications

Jacoby from The Age of American Unreason

Well, Susan, I love you too. Perhaps it’s a good thing I don’t take my blogging as seriously as you Susan fear I do. Perhaps it’s also a good thing that, despite your above mentioned warm and fuzzy words, I found your book well-written, intelligent and (unfortunately) accurate. While you probably have nothing but contempt for my blog, I do value your recent book.
A self-proclaimed “cultural conservationist”, Jacoby is the author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, a book I thoroughly enjoyed and easily made my “best of” list for 2009. Her newest book can be thought of as an intellectual “Silent Spring”- a stinging indictment of America’s intellectual decline. According to Jacoby, the twin specters anti-rationalism and “junk thought”  haunt the land, manifesting themselves in religious fundamentalism, scientific ignorance, and the mind-numbing addictions of television, video games and the Internet. Few Americans read, and when they do it is seldom anything of substance but cheap bodice rippers, infantile soap opera-esque serialized novels and other mass marketed crap. Newspapers, which have been losing readers since the early 70’s, are growing bankrupt and folding across America, leaving people to get their news via soundbites from Fox News and CNN and if they are lucky, a quick sentence or two on a newspaper or TV station’s website.
I came away from Jacoby’s book knowing that reading things of substance is absolutely imperative. Don’t waste your precious free time in front of a TV or computer terminal. Read intellectually stimulating books. Read your struggling local newspaper-heck read several papers if you have that luxury. The mind IS a terrible thing to waste. Get off your ass and get to work !
After you read Jacoby’s book, be sure to readDark Age Ahead by the late Jane Jacobs as well as Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future by Neil Postman. Many of Jacoby’s arguments were previously explored by these two authors in their respective books. Since a co-worker of mine was kind enough to loan me her copy of Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason, I’m hoping to read what Gore has to say about America’s current intellectual demise.
See Susan, I’m not so bad after all.

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One response to “The dumbing of America.

  1. Eh, Jacoby sounds like a luddite. I wholeheartedly agree that it's better to read in-depth coverage and to really learn a subject rather than just skim it. Computers and TVs in some ways have hampered our likelihood of doing in-depth research, but in many ways have improved it.Generally, particularly online, people are far more engaged with news and subjects they're learning about. They're discussing; they're following bread crumb trails to learn more; they're interacting with other people or with pictures and video. It's not just a one-way conversation and I don't think that's a bad thing.Now, I do think that technology has enabled niche interests far more — that's good and bad. Good because you can finally connect with anyone, anywhere who's interested in whatever subject you are, no matter what it is. There's got to be a chat room for everything. But, that does leave us with fewer shared experiences on the whole, and shared experiences that come and go much quicker than they used to (like Internet memes).Newspapers didn't die because people stopped reading the news. Newspapers died because their owners were so tied to the medium (print) that they didn't change fast enough to keep their business relevant. They shouldn't be in the business of print. They should be in the business of keeping people informed, however people take in information. Yes, the hard part is figuring out how to monetize the business, but other businesses have done it and succeeded. Whether it's a subscription model, "freemium" content, ad-based or whatever, they need to figure out what to do — they should have been experimenting with different business models on the Internet a looooong time ago. These days, if you're late to the game and unwilling to change, you risk your business going under. Geez, just look at the music industry. I can't say I feel sorry for them, though.A greater worry to me is the trend of biased media — Fox News on the right, MSNBC on the left…. I hope we don't lose what's in the middle.

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