Mark Bauerlein thinks technology is responsible for making today’s youth the “dumbest generation” because social media only gets kids to talk to one another. Although there is some irony (and narcissism) in an grown-up academic arguing in a book to other grown-ups about the blight of kids talking only to one another, I think we can take his critique to fun extremes.
When literature scholars, one of which Bauerlein considers himself, talk about “The Classics,” The Odyssey, The Iliad, Shakespeare’s plays, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales immediately come to mind. These texts are, by all accounts, great. But they have something else in common. Homer wrote The Odyssey and The Iliad in dactylic hexameter. Shakespeare’s plays were in iambic pentameter. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was heroic couplets (an ancestor of iambic pentameter).
In other words, “The Classics” all conform to some form of poetic meter. Know what else does? Popular music. That’s right. A detailed historical analysis of meter would no doubt reveal a direct line from “Hamlet” to Brit-brit’s “Baby Hit Me One More Time.” For shame, Mr. Shakespeare. Without your insidious influence, our kids would be smarter and better able to focus on other literary texts that aren’t constrainted by meter.
Oh, but it gets worse. Dactylic hexameter, iambic pentameter, trimeter, and heroic couplets all have another thing in common. Users are forced by the constraints of meter to limit what they say to a predetermined number of syllables. Sure, you can write several heroic couplets and string them together, but in order to conform to the heroic form, two lines of various meter must be self-contained. No matter what meter you use, you have to say all you need to say in an abbreviated amount of words and syllables.
If you’re with me at this point, you know that poetic meter must be the direct ancestor of the single most dangerous phenomenon for our children: Twitter. Twitter, as we all know, and as Bauerlein is wont to tell us, stunts kids intellectual development and makes them dumb. Twitter and other technological “developments” undermine children’s ability to concentrate and focus. They undermine children’s ability to appreciate important works of literature and philosophical thought. In short, poetic meter (pioneered by Homer, refined by Chaucer, and perfected by Shakespeare) are directly responsible for dumbing down America’s current generation of students.
The only solution as I see it is this: we must go back…back before Homer had the opportunity to stupify countless generations of Western civilization. Back to rudimentary shelters and mammoth hunts. Back to cave drawings, glacial melts, and land bridges. Only by delivering ourselves and our children to a time before poetic meter can we hope for a smarter generation.