Frosh, Jocks, Dopes, and the Web

If you're a Factor regular, you know I've had some spirited debates recently with Mary Katharine Ham, John Stossel, and others. They generally view the Internet and social media as wonderful things that make our lives immeasurably better. They say that the machines enable us to look up information in an instant. True, but on the other side there are some cold, hard facts. Very cold and very hard.

The Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine in Rhode Island just did a study of female college freshmen. The findings are beyond disturbing. These young women spend, on average, 12 hours a day engrossed in some form of media – often texting and perusing Facebook. 12 hours! Half a day! Can anyone tell me that's a good thing?

The students apparently weren't using the web to read James Joyce or to solve complex chemical equations. The researchers found some simple correlations: The more social networking, the lower the grades. The more social networking, the more classes skipped and the shoddier the homework assignments.

Why focus on college freshmen? Because today's teens are the first generation to grow up with the ability to be on line all the time, and the lives of younger Americans have changed drastically from back in the day.

It used to be that you'd see kids playing sports in the streets and on the playgrounds. I don't see too much of that anymore. Instead, many kids are playing sports games on the net, where they can experience the thrill of victory without the agony of getting sweaty. They are playing a game, but not the game.

This is personal because growing up on Long Island, sports saved me. In my neighborhood, there were the jocks and the hoods. I had friends in both camps. The hoods hung around the shopping center smoking cigarettes and weed. I found that kind of stuff boring and hit the ball fields.

Many of the hoods bottomed out and some even died, while most of the jocks became prosperous. Competition builds discipline and perseverance. Smoking and getting high builds nothing. I was lucky to have made the right choice.

Today's fantasy world of the Internet is like a high-tech narcotic, for boys and girls, men and women. Highly motivated people still venture out to conquer the world, but many folks are retreating into an artificial world that is just a click away.

People often tell me they fear for America, that is has become a place of individual pursuits and selfish short-term desires. They say there is little sense of patriotism or civic responsibility.

That fear is worth thinking about as machines become more and more vital to our lives. Succeeding in the real world requires a lot more skill and determination than just flipping a switch.

When Miller and I were in San Diego last weekend for a Bolder & Fresher show, a man in the audience asked what I consider the greatest danger confronting our nation. I didn't hesitate. It's the apathy that is definitely made worse by the Internet and social media. Don't believe me? Take another look at that study of college freshmen. It's sobering. And it's tragic.

  • Wheels55

    Chill Bill.
    Ever since the introduction of telephones in the house, people have had a love affair with technology at their finger tips. Television, now in every room. Computers, now i-pads in so many hands. Parents have had to take away all of this technology when grades slip. Granted, it is harder to do these days. But make your kid responsible with the understanding that when he grades slip, cell phones get taken away and computers can only be used in the general family area where parents can see what is being done (homework). Same kind of thing with employees (not doing the job? unemployment lingers).
    I agree with you that all of this can cause problems. But I agree with Stossel and Ham more.

  • Darren Perkins

    It really comes down to parenting. I don’t allow my children to have a facebook page or a twitter account. They do not have cellphones much less smartphones because I won’t pay for them. I raised my children with Christian values. They aren’t materialistic as a result. You are big on confronting the issue of at risk children with an emphasis on African Americans and you cite a lack of parenting and chaos in the home but what can be very damaging also is a home where there is no chaos but also no parents because they are always working to buy their kids all the gadgets (and themselves for that matter along with cars, houses, extravagant vacations, designer clothes etc.). We have one computer in the home and it is in the living room where there is no privacy. Children do not need the added distraction of communicating with their friends 24-7. My daughter has nearly straight A’s in school and my son decided to quit going to physical high school and now does all his schoolwork on the computer (low grades are now all A’s) through e-high school because in his words “I can’t stand all the idiots in my classes because they are always making so much noise I can’t hear to learn”. The problem with teaching values and instilling good attitudes is that you first have to have them yourself and you have to have be present long enough to teach them. I fear both things are in low supply for today’s generation of kids. Values are in short supply all around. Just look at congress. I no longer tell my children we live in a great nation. Our nation is now a house of cards precariously perched on debt bubble and when the bubble bursts there will be rioting in the streets. No wonder the spenders want to take away our guns and grasp at every illogical argument to do so… but I digress.

  • Josh

    Relax. It’s new. How many turkeys were cooked in the microwave when it first appeared? You just have to give people time to adjust to the newness.

    Gaming and texting is a fad. But what’s here to stay, like it or not, are all the many apps and Office programs that can help to make a student’s life easier. Researching, formatting, editing, making graphs and charts, it’s all made easier with technology.

    Sally will tire of “lol’n” at Susie every five minutes. But the future is here.

    To my knowledge, sports aren’t suffering enrollment. The parks around here are still packed.

    It seems to me that, give or take a few percentage points, the people who spend their days buried inside of a gizmo are the same type of people who have always been buried inside of something. From playing D&D in the basement and Atari to spending all day on the phone gossiping with their girlfriends, people have just found funner, more immediate ways to preoccupy themselves.

    Twenty years ago is was Mario. Stossel was allowed by His Majesty to bring up the whole Superman comic bit for about 1.4 seconds. It’s always something.

    It could be worse for college freshman. They could be drinking more and fooling around at higher rates. I’m sure a lot of parents out there prefer a Twitter addict over an alcoholic. Just saying.