Teens Team Up With the Internet to Destroy Summer Reading

It's not looking good for summer reading

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On Sunday, a lengthy article by Matt Richtel appeared in The New York Times. Richtel's piece, called "Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction," follows a handful of students at a California high school and examines the impact of technology on their grades and study habits. One student doesn't finish his summer reading assignment, the Kurt Vonnegut novel Cat's Cradle, because he's spent the summer uploading homemade videos to YouTube; another student "plays six hours of video games on weekdays and more on weekends, leaving homework to be done in the bathroom before school." Richtel's piece has occasioned both hand-wringing and skepticism about what accelerating technology is doing to our young people, and to our brains.

  • Tech and the Growing Brain  Richtel talks to neuroscientists who suggest that too much exposure to technology during the formative years can have profound effects on the way the adolescent brain develops. "Recent imaging studies of people have found that major cross sections of the brain become surprisingly active during downtime," Richtel writes. "These brain studies suggest to researchers that periods of rest are critical in allowing the brain to synthesize information, make connections between ideas and even develop the sense of self. Researchers say these studies have particular implications for young people, whose brains have more trouble focusing and setting priorities." Richtel quotes Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, who says, "Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body... But kids are in a constant mode of stimulation."
  • Hmm, Is This News? wonders Matt Yglesias at Think Progress. Yglesias points out that in the past century, we've seen "a large increase in the number of ways you could be entertaining yourself. But since the incandescent lightbulb and rural electrification, we haven't devised new ways to fundamentally increase the amount of time one has in the day to do things. Under the circumstances, things that you could do in 1810—to wit, read a book—are bound to tend to get squeezed, neurology aside."
  • Give It a Rest, scoffs Joe Coscarelli at The Village Voice. "The New York Times will not stop writing about young people and their collective relationship with technology," Coscarelli writes. "Because this is the same article you've read time and time again, it is probably more enjoyable as a set of ten context-free pull-quotes in chronological order as they appear in the newspaper. You'll get the idea."
  • Here's Another Way to Look At It  "I have definitely learned a lot more on the Internet than I ever did in high school," writes MG Siegler at TechCrunch. Siegler offers an alternative reading of Vishal Singh, a high school senior profiled in the article: "Kids like the aforementioned Singh figure out a passion for video editing and filmmaking not through high school, but through the web and technology ... If you're a self-starter, why shouldn't you be able to get your education on the web? Because there are too many distractions? Please. Those distractions don't seem to be an issue for Singh when he's doing what he loves (filmmaking), just when he's doing what he's forced to do (Latin). Funny how that works."
  • The Vonnegut Framing Device Is Ironic, points out blogger Ann Althouse. First Althouse quotes Vonnegut on the metaphysical concept of the karass, a group that "ignores national, institutional, occupational, familial, and class boundaries." So, Althouse asks, "where are you more likely to find the other members of your karass? Sitting alone in your room reading 'Cat's Cradle,' or weaving your way through Facebook? The great irony is that if you were really into 'Cat's Cradle,' you'd love the web and the way kids today swim in it."
  • Maybe This Is Just the Next Natural Step, suggests Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine. Jarvis notes that "a group of Danish academics say we are passing through the other side of what they wonderfully call the Gutenberg Parenthesis, leaving the structured, serial, permanent, authored, controlled era of text and returning, perhaps, to what came before the press: a time when communication and content cross, when process dominates product, when knowledge is distributed by people passing it around, when we remix it along the way, when we are more oral and aural."
  • No, This Is Scary, writes Rich Harris at ZDNet. Harris laments the situations where, during a night out, "everyone pulls out their camera phones taking tons of photos and video, feverishly uploading to Flickr and Facebook, trying to be  as real-time as they can get their fingers to flow across the touch keyboard on their iPhones and Droids." Harris goes on to say, "I think we need to keep the importance of balance in the back of our minds. It's important to make sure that we don't lose sight of experiencing real life as opposed to the delusion of thinking that being your own personal Facebook feed journalist is the real thing, because it just isn't and it never will be. When you go to the beach be sure to feel the sand, smell the air, splash in the water."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.