The Rise of the “Stupider”

The Rise of the “Stupider”
The Rise of Substitute Intellectual Activity – a Plague!

Roger Ebert has written a column, The quest for frisson, in which he describes some of the ways we function differently with the arrival of the Web.  One way:  we read full, actual books less often.  We are too easily distracted.

As the Signals guys put it in ReWork:

And the reason is interruptions…  you can’t get meaningful things done when you’re constantly going start, stop, start, stop.
Instead, you should get in the alone zone.  Long stretches of alone time are when you’re most productive.  When you don’t  have to mind-shift between various tasks, you get a boatload done.
During alone time, give up instant messages, phone calls, e-mail, and meetings.  Just shut up and get to work.  You’ll be surprised how much more you get done.

Ebert printed a response from a student from Harvard named Daniel Goldhaber.  The student argues that people are getting, for lack of a better word, “stupider” (his word).

“Every year I’ve seen go by has become – for lack of a better word – stupider,” he writes.

Here are a few more thoughts from the student

I go to Harvard University and chose to go instead of accepting a scholarship at USC Film School. My thought process was that even though I want to be a filmmaker, I thought it would make more sense to try to surround myself with people who – like me – enjoy thinking, talking, and reading about the world at large, not just film.

However, what I found stood in such stark contrast to the Harvard of the 70s and the 80s that I had read about in my youth. I found a place where superficiality was prized not just socially, but INTELLECTUALLY. It’s not about the number of books you’ve read, but the number of wikipedia articles on books that you’ve skimmed so that it appears as if you’ve read a lot of books (I’ve succumbed to this as much as anybody else – it’s a plague.)

I don’t know what to do with all this.  These thoughts remind me of Scott Peck’s charge that the basic human flaw is laziness – not lazy, as in doing nothing, but lazy as in not doing the things you should be doing, not working on your life in the specific areas that need such work.

Maybe we are lazy.  And maybe we want Wikipedia to do all of our thinking and reading for us.

Back in my preaching days, there were two kinds of preachers.  Those who got their illustrations and quotes from books of famous illustrations and quotes.  And those who read history, biography, philosophy, and built their own inventory of stories and quotes breathed in from wide, varied reading.  Such preachers always had more depth.

You might say – “so, Randy, how do you justify your book synopses?  You announce that you read the books so that we don’t have to.”  I don’t know if I can justify what I do.  But I have always held to the fantasy that my presentations will whet your appetite enough that you want to simply read and learn more.  I see myself as a “keep learning” ambassador.

I think I know this.  The rise of the “stupider” is a threat to our depth, our ethics, our very way of live.  We really do need to fortify our defenses, to help us all keep learning.

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