As a historian I recognize that every generation thinks that the next is going to hell in a hand-basket. I personally was raised with constant admonitions about how easy I had it compared to my parents’ generation which spent their childhood in the Great Depression and came of age during World War II.
In the current context I am certainly not comparing my coddled Boomer upbringing with what has come to be known as the Greatest Generation, or the pioneers who braved the unknown to emigrate to the West. I didn’t have to clear any forests before I could even plant crops to feed my family, didn’t have to scrub clothes by hand on a washboard in a tub filled with water carried from a hand-dug well and boiled atop a wood-burning stove! Didn’t have to light a candle in order to see in the dark – or for that matter, have to dip those candles in the first place!
Still, I have to wonder, am I the only one who recognizes a growing problem in our fast-paced world: illiteracy! Not in some third-world country, mind you, but right here in the United States – and I fear it is generational.
I’m not talking about the English language – although I know a number of English teachers who could make an argument for the deterioration of that too. And don’t get me started on the shrinking American vocabulary!
No, I’m talking about skills which may not exactly be “languages” but for want of a better term, I’m going to go with that analogy. For example:
For years I have promoted music education as not only an essential enhancement to our lives, but because – in my opinion – being able to read music is equivalent to being literate in another language!
Unfortunately, there is a growing list of other “languages” that are being lost as well. I already knew that cursive writing is no longer taught in elementary schools. But a teacher friend of mine recently bemoaned the fact that a student had asked her not to write cursive on the blackboard because he “couldn’t read it”! And this was a college student!!
Wait! There’s more. The proliferation of hand-held media in today’s cyber-world has eliminated yet another “language” from the skill set of younger Americans: the dial clock! Did you know that an increasing number of kids today cannot tell time on an ordinary watch or wall clock unless it has a numerical readout! This one really hit me hard. How hard can it be to read a clock?
Dare I bring up yet another example? How about Roman Numerals? The only vestiges of these antiquated symbols remaining in the 21st century are sun dials and the credits following entertainment movies.
It is fashionable in this day and age to bemoan the negative affects of modern technology on our daily lives, and especially on the younger generation.
“Kids these days don’t know how to write complete sentences, just tweets.” “How are future historians going to do any research if there aren’t any letters or documents, i.e. paper trails?” “Will libraries go the way of the dinosaurs?”
And what’s next?
In fairness, the younger generation is head and shoulders above us Boomers when it comes to computer literacy. Actually, it’s the smaller devices which give me fits. 99.9% of every cell phone I’ve ever owned was a complete mystery to me years before I was forced (by built-in obsolescence) to “upgrade” to an even more incomprehensible piece of technology. Tapping out a simple text message with one finger is sheer agony for me (who happens to be a pretty accomplished touch-typist, if I do say so myself.) The same message can be typed and sent by a youngster before I have found the send button. The only reason that I even use “messaging” is because my children will not respond to an email or even a phone call! OY!
So where does this leave us? An old fuddy-duddy quacking in the dark about the younger generation going to hell in a hand-basket …
Oops. Been there. Done that.
Happy New Year, anyway!