Saturday, November 13, 2010

Getting Dumber All the Time

In books and stories, characters are always trying to remember someone’s name.  I’ve used it myself.  It adds that dose of realism, and it’s an instantly recognizable situation.  What’s her name? the narrator wonders.  Donna?  Diana?  Turns out to be Deena.  So close.
Truthfully, in real life it happens more like that Seinfeld episode.  

Jerry: What was her husband's name, again?  Chip?  Kip?  Skip?

Elaine: Todd.

Jerry: Oh, right.

I'm going to go ahead and blame Todd.  Todd is Chip or Skip because Todd is boring.  It’s especially confusing in a room full of people you’re meeting for the first time, all the names and faces blend together.  Shouldn't Todd help you out by distinguishing himself in some way?  

It’s not just me.  No one remembers anyone’s name.  I refuse to believe we’re too self-centered to learn a new name and face.  No, it’s something else.  

I work with women in their fifties and sixties at Books & Books who count out the cash drawers from memory.  They struggle with all the computer stuff the teens and twenty-somethings pick up like breathing, but they count change and bills without moving their lips.  Meanwhile, take away a twenty-something’s pen, paper, and calculator while she counts a drawer and watch calamity ensue.
I think the Big Bang was a mass of everything, not just matter but all the intelligence, creativity, and abstract thought that would ever be, from the beginning of everything until the end of the whole mess.  With each progressive generation, it gets diluted.  Want proof?  Read a book from just thirty years ago.  There’s a command of language, a manner of expression which even our most lauded young writers lack. 

Some would argue that’s the modern style, stripped down, bare bones, minimal prose.  They’ll tell you that all the fancy words and flowery sentences in the world don’t necessarily translate to emotional power.  To which I say. . . Billy MadisonBlack Eyed PeasGovernor Schwarzenegger.  The Da Vinci Code, train wreck television, and Hot Chicks with Douche Bags.  
As long as the right people keep making money off of stupidity and ignorance, our culture will continue to manufacture idiocy.  As long as we have cell phone coverage, cars, internet access, and televisions, no one will care.  Devices will keep us entertained every second of every day.  We will eliminate boredom and original thought.

But don’t worry about it.  We’ll be too busy watching YouTube videos of celebrity meltdowns on our IPhones to care.


  1. I think it's interesting how things change. I'm not sure if we're becoming less intelligent or more intelligent in different ways, but like you I do regret that language seems to be losing ground with every generation. While I'm sure every student that's ever been in the last hundred years has struggled with the flowery language of Shakespeare amongst others, there is a revelation to be had in that - and other writers - language: in reality it's not that difficult to 'tune in', it just takes a little effort and some patience; there's are world of enjoyment to be had in appreciating anothers playfulness, wit, intelligence and creativity with language; there's a sense of satisfaction that through language no-one's ideas and voice is beyond you. It's an important lesson that we cant afford our next generations to bypass - at least without challenge.

    But I remember being told off for 'not speaking properly' by my parents - even a Dad who's normal language was an old fashioned local dialect but who wanted me to learn and speak {outside the house at least} 'the Queens English'. I remember too being confused at school for being praised for reciting a Burns poem in broad Scots one day and being chastised the next for using that same language in class - perhaps a purely Scottish anomaly.......

    I too notice the lack of mental agility of kids particularly with arithmetic and the awe they can have for those of us who can do calculations quickly in our heads. In some ways it's good that they can be surprised and delighted by the simple fact that someone, perhaps previously ignored or regarded as somehow unimportant and forgettable can do something outside of their ability with absolute ease.

    That recognition at least shows that they might still be able to learn something new. {if there's anyone left who can teach them}

    Another belter of a post Aaron. You do punt them out.

    Jealously yours.......

  2. and I really need to check my stuff before posting........

  3. “In reality it's not that difficult to 'tune in', it just takes a little effort and some patience.”

    Very true, and if a book has been around for decades (or centuries) and people are still talking about it, you can bet the effort will be rewarding.

    If a child from Mississippi read passages of Huckleberry Finn in class he’d need to be true to the dialect, but parents and teachers would likely steer him toward proper English otherwise. That’s the best I’ve got, and I had to research Robert Burns (he wrote “Auld Lang Syne!”) and broad Scots to get it.

    Einstein said, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” I’ve also heard that we’re immigrants in the land of technology, while our children are natives. I hope, as you say, that we’ll grow more intelligent in different ways, that all this reliance on technology will leave our hearts room to grow, that our humanity will reach our technology.

    Unfortunately, there’s evidence that virtual life is making our children more narcissistic, so I don’t know if I’m deluding myself.

    I’m the jealous one. I see how many followers you’ve picked up in a year, and all the intelligent comments you make on a variety of blogs and a range of subjects. I’m supposed to be “building my platform” but I’ve only pitched a tent, while you’re sawing wood and driving nails, garnering an audience.

    As always, thanks for reading.