I remember one day back in 2008, after an afternoon of playing basketball with some guys, we were casually conversing about random things. During that time there was the presidential race going on. So, I went ahead and asked them their opinion on the candidates for president. One of them blurted out “Who’s running?”. Shocked by his reply I just looked at him with a dumbfounded look, until, a guy who appeared to be a friend of his changed the subject as it seemed he didn’t know either.

A couple of days later, I came across the same group of guys on the basketball court. Shooting around to get warmed up for a game, one of them excitingly asked “Who do you guys think is gonna’ be the next American Idol?”, referring to the popular television show. As I didn’t participate in the debate I listened to their enthusiastic conversation of “he/she deserves to win because…, he should’ve been in the final…, I’m going to vote for…” and so on it went.

As I recall this event in my thoughts, I am brought to think about the broader view of things and where the younger generation (30 years old and younger), the future leaders, are headed for the years to come. Realistically thinking, I begin to theorize that a generation of know-nothings will jeopardize our future. The decline of literary reading, the influences of today’s digital media, and the deficit of knowledge makes this theory a likely outcome. 

Reading Phobia

In 2004 a report titled Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America reported a significant drop in literary reading had occurred in the last decade especially in the 18-24 age group. The report reflects upon literary reading consisting nonfiction, literature, poetry, news media, etc. More people are shying away from quality reading to finding more importance in the knowing of the latest pop cultural fads.

Studies conclude that reading builds vocabulary, writing skills, social and communication skills, knowledge, and intelligence. Reading enables the reader to experience different worlds beyond their access which will help them to connect ideas and idioms to expand their imagination and inspiration.

On the counterpart, some argue that in this digital age, information is so readily available and easily accessible that spending time reading a book on your free time is a waste of time. Some state digital media and e-literacy (electronically or technology literate) is the way and the key to the future making literacy obsolete. Beg the differ, the route that the digital age is taking us will more likely do more harm than good.

The Decline of the Digitally Inclined

In this age, an abundant amount of information about anything is accessible to anyone within a few keystrokes and clicks. This is so, but why then has the millennial generation that is so digitally inclined fail to prove that their knowledge, skill level and intellect has increased accordingly?

When one comes across a problem or needs information, people of the present tend to search for the answers through mediums such as the internet. In doing this, a person will most likely “cut & paste” the answer researched and in effect resulting in not learning the information. In essence, you may compare this to a student “cramming” information the night before for a test.

As this goes on it becomes a habit for some and they become dependent on digital media and the internet for answers. No real thinking and problem solving is involved, just a few strokes of keys and clicks. The computer does the thinking for them and the brain is in passive mode. Even the knowledge of writing and spelling is not a priority anymore with word processors and spell check software doing it for them. What then will happen if somehow these resources are taken away?

Yes, it is faster and easier to search the internet rather than to read an article or learn from a book. But, what is the purpose of the instant gratification when the remaining time is likely then spent checking e-mails, updating profile songs on Myspace, watching the latest music videos on YouTube, or browsing for what’s the latest gossip on Facebook? All leading to a generation of know-nothings.

In addition, according to Daniel G. Amen M.D., a clinical neuroscientist, psychiatrist, brain imagery expert, and New York Times bestselling author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life and Magnificent Mind At Any Age, excessive T.V., computer or cell phone time, and playing video games are three of fourteen bad brain habits that may affect people at any age.

Knowledge Deficit and Disorder

Who’s the 32nd president? What is capitalism? When did the Civil War occur and why? Some of these questions were asked of a group of teenagers only to receive stumped looks and “out of the park” guesses. By the way, culture is forming, or at least in America, a generation of unknowledgeable and unintellectual bodies will flood over.

Sure, who needs to know what is pi or what is the diameter of the Earth? Most won’t even use or need that information in a lifetime. But, what about the questions-  what is love? Why am I depressed? Why am I in so much debt? Why can’t I achieve happiness? Some questions that are commonly thought of by many and sometimes never gets answered, because of not learning and educating themselves. Only to then ask others for answers but only to get the same thoughts because everyone thinks alike and only knows as much as you do through the same media. A vicious cycle that revolves continuously and creates a paradox.

The Shift

If you think about, this likely scenario is not anything new. If you take a view of the big picture, the paradox created in this likely scenario is already in existence. It is just reality taking on a different look.

The 80/20 Principle founded by Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923), may give you a different, interesting, and maybe useful perspective on this paradox and in your lifestyle thinking and design.