Generation Dumb consists of anyone born roughly between 1978 and 1996. Numbering 70 million in the U.S. and due to surpass the boomers in sheer numbers by 2010, Gen Dumb is rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with. And a lot of people are courageously trying. In the past year, on top of countless stories regarding the increased engagement of young people in this year’s presidential campaigns, major media outlets from the New York Times to Newsweek to 60 Minutes have put this generation under the microscope with unprecedented scientific scrutiny. A number of scholarly, stat-packed books have been published as well, and their authors have become the media’s favorite go-to persons to explain to bewildered parents, teachers, and employers what, exactly, is up with us.
Some have noticed an interesting trend: Observers tend to either love us or hate us. They’re either held aloft as the bright, tech-savvy, shining hope of humanity or dismissed as hopelessly narcissistic ignoramuses whose every posted YouTube comment should make them all bow their heads in shame. The truth, is more complicated than either extreme. They aren’t simply Gen Dumb, and they aren’t the messianic millennials either. They are Gen Y, a genuinely puzzling cultural variable, like Gen X before them, that has yet to be defined.
The way Bauerlein sees it, something new and disastrous has happened youth with the arrival of the instant gratification go-go-go digital age. The result is, essentially, a collective loss of context and history, a neglect of "enduring ideas and conflicts." Survey after painstakingly recounted survey reveals what most of us already suspect: that young people know virtually nothing about history and politics. And no wonder. They have developed a "brazen disregard of books and reading". Things were not supposed to be this way. After all, "never have the opportunities for education, learning, political action, and cultural activity been greater", But somehow the much-ballyhooed advances of this brave new world have not only failed to materialize -- they've actually made us dumber.
Friedman offered one of the most optimistic appraisals of this generation that I’d ever encountered. Describing it as an impressive and admirably “quiet” generation—due to both our silent determination to not let post-9/11 terrorism fears curtail our sense of freedom and our preference for keyboard-clicking internet activism over more vocal social engagements.
I don’t doubt the authenticity of Gen Y’s idealism and inspiration. Yet I do worry that as long as it remains circumscribed by the spheres of their narcissism, its real potential will never be revealed. The question is: Do they have what it takes to burst their bubbles? Can they finally get over themselves and start participating in life so fully, so unreservedly, that they remove any doubt as to where they really stand?