Cause you know... I can't read or write.

January 06, 2009

Or so I say. But clearly that’s not true, unless you believe my stories of a well trained chimp that does all my reading and writing for me. It’s a joke I’ve used quite a bit through the years. People typically find it funny because of the obvious falseness of it. Clearly I can read and write but most people also seem to think I’m quite intelligent. I am a computer programmer of all things. And this is where I feel most people fail.

Because computers are becoming such a key part of our everyday lives, a part that many people still struggle with, my advanced knowledge in their workings (compared to the observer) lead them to mistakenly assume that this makes me some kind of genius. However I know the truth, they have been fooled.

I read an article today on the train in EnlightenNext magazine entitled “The Dumbest Generation?” by Tom Huston. It’s an interesting read. One thing that stood out was the phrase sophisticatedly narcissistic which seems to fit.

Why do I jump to the conclusion that I’m some sort of moron? I don’t feel like I stand up to most of the identifiers of an educated individual. One, I know very little of current events. I don’t live in a cave, so I’m aware of some very significant events but I don’t watch the news, I don’t read normal news websites like CNN. I’m up to speed on most tech news, but I live in a bubble.

What are my main sources for news? TechCrunch, Boing Boing, Digg and Reddit. Just now I look at the top headline on CNN “Cries from Gaza: ‘We are in the eye of the storm’” and you know what? I know almost nothing about what they are talking about. I’ve read some headlines about something going on in Gaza but honestly, I wasn’t that interested. I was more interested to read that Steve Jobs was losing weight because of a hormone imbalance and that’s partly why he’s not going to be doing the keynote at MacWorld. This is because I’m sophisticatedly narcissistic. I have all the news and information at my fingertips and I have no excusable reason for not keeping up on current national and world events.

At one time I added the New York Times and CNN to my RSS feed reader because I felt it was something I should do but after a few weeks I realized I just didn’t care and it was just noise to me. One thing I remember having to learn when I was in middle school was the 50 states and the capitals of all 50 states. I’m sure at this point I could do a pretty good job labeling the 50 states on a map but I’d be pretty hard pressed to name all 50 state capitals.

Not to long ago there was a magazine that had a cover article “Is Google Making Us Dumb?” or something like that. I didn’t actually read the article but that’s a question that some of my friends and coworkers discussed at the time. Some would argue that I’m not dumb for not knowing these things because I don’t need to know it, I can look it up. I’m in front of a computer probably 70% of my waking hours and I have an iPhone with internet access in my pocket for the rest of the time. I suspect GPS navigation systems will cause a similar dependency where at some point there will be people who won’t be able drive anywhere without the use of one.

If you took me with internet access compared to an above average educated person from 100 years ago and quizzed us on important things in our respective times I would clearly have an advantage. Even if they were armed with all the resources at their disposal, I would still probably win. Am I merely adapting to new technology?

My generation is pretty hard to motivate. People look at the election as a glimmer of hope that we’re capable of acting. But I’m not sure. Look at what we’ve been through for the last 8 years. Where were we 4 years ago when Bush got reelected? I don’t know anybody who thought Bush was the right man for the job, but he still won. This time Obama won, but not by what I thought should have been a historical landslide. During the election people picked a side and repeated the soundbites. I’m not 100% sure where each candidate stood on the issues. I could probably make a good guess based on their respective political parties, but it would be a guess. I did take a quiz online though and it said that Obama was a far better match then McCain based on my responses.

Early in the election I was backing Ron Paul. Why? Because I have an intrinsic distrust for authority and government. Ron Paul stood for small government. I liked the idea of getting rid of the IRS. I knew that reverting to the gold standard wouldn’t do much good and could do harm but the idea of shaking things up seemed favorable. I didn’t like that he was pro-life but I didn’t think he would be able to do anything about it, Bush couldn’t. But that’s about it. I didn’t rally for him but I did send him money, just as I later did for Obama. Why didn’t I really do anything? Probably because in my heart I knew it didn’t make any difference. Ron Paul wasn’t going to win. And honestly I’m not sure how much good Obama is going to be able to do. I hope he’ll be better then McCain but you never know. At least I voted.

I know that I’m ignorant, and what’s worse is I’m probably not going to do anything about it. I’ll feel guilty about it, but that won’t be enough to motivate me. I think this is the problem with me and a lot of my generation and this is why we’re the “Dumbest Generation”. Let’s hope that I’m wrong, otherwise we’re all doomed.


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Written by Andrew Shell, a web developer from Madison, WI.