Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Tree of Knowledge: Technology and the Millennial Generation

An essay I wrote yesterday for AP Lang/Comp... Would you agree? Disagree?

The Tree of Knowledge: Technology and the Millennial Generation
            In the beginning, Adam and Eve had a choice: they could eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and have seemingly unlimited knowledge at their fingertips or they could obey God and live without the burden that the knowledge would bring them. In today’s world, people have a choice to open their laptops with a snazzy half-bitten apple on the back and bask in a tsunami of information, eventually drowning in its magnitude—unable to manage or use it correctly. Or, they could take this “tree” of knowledge and use it for the better, knowing when to eat of its fruits and when to abstain. The firstlings of this world and the “millennials” hold something in common with the rest of humanity: a desire for knowledge, but a knack for misusing it. In the digital age, technology is lauded because of its great accomplishments: the computer, sending man to the moon, revolutionary medical advances. Yet, with the influx of technology, the millennial generation seems to fall a step short: lacking depth, simplicity and, in many ways, self-control. Although technology itself is not responsible for the increased ignorance and inabilities of millennials, the misuse of technology is responsible for the disintegration of this generation, revealing the effects that a tool can have in the hands of the untrained or undiscerning.
            Like any tool, technology is a double-edged sword—it can cut both ways: to destroy the mind or to assist it. It is a neutral tool bereft of moral value. Some say, with the advent of Artificial Intelligence, that technology will eventually develop its own moral intelligence based upon logic and reason. Others believe that something created by humans will always remain in the control of humans—subject to their moral integrity or lack thereof. Yet, in the context of technology’s neutral essence, neither opinion is entirely correct. A lifeless tool can be used and still affect the life of its user. However, assuming that technology itself is the cause of the millennial’s plight is not only a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, but it fails to dig deeper and see the real cause. The tool affects the life of the user, but the use of the tool is where the effect begins. In his article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” Nicholas Carr wrestles with this paradox between a tool’s neutrality and its positive or negative effect on the human mind. He believes that media not only “supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought (Carr 168).” In its gravity, technology tempts him, but in the end, he is the one who gives in, puddle-jumping from link to link unaware that his focus is floundering. It is the not-so-age-old story of “I’m just going to check my email” and the next two hours are spent playing hopscotch on Pinterest, Facebook, or news articles. A knife is meant to cut, but it is used for both murder and cuisine. Technology is meant to provide information and service, but how do people use it?
            Within an increasingly globalized world, technology has been used for multiple purposes—academia, security, exploration, etc.—but, do its uses outweigh its misuses? In the most positive sense, technology has helped improve life in the areas of general efficiency, personal comfort and information availability. Thanks to it, some of the most grueling tasks are now automated, home life is easier with the advent of the microwave and internet, and very few need a library to find source materials. Surprisingly, people write more now than ever before, according to Clive Thompson, who says that the Generation Y’s encounters with multiple interfaces of language and rhetoric have given them an incredible sense of kairos—“assessing their audience and adapting their technique to best get their point across (Thompson 173).” A popular media theorist, Steven Johnson, even tells the Discover magazine that the millennial generation has become a “regime of competence,” due to the gaming craze that has taught them to navigate, manage and master countless variables (Johnson 172). However, people like Mark Bauerlein passionately disagree that technology has created the new and improved Critical Thinking 2.0, saying that “the mental equipment of the young falls short of their media (Bauerlein 168).” Despite its numerous and helpful applications, a use of technology has ushered in a neglect of other tools. Informational abundance is simultaneously a famine of knowledge and skill. To quote a Pew survey, “56 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds possessed low knowledge levels, while only 22 percent of 50-to-60-year-olds did (Bauerlein 168).” The traditional pillars of acquired knowledge—philosophy and politics, trades and tradition, writing and history—have been discarded, leaving a culture that, as each day passes, moves toward a shallow future, only to forget a rich past.
            The use of technology itself is altering how people have functioned for thousands of years—the lines between perception and reality are blurred, the differences between speed and quality are becoming greater, and the definitions of knowledge and ignorance are skewed. There will always be those who use power (in this case, technology) to prey upon the weak, the ignorant and the vulnerable. But, the true danger of technology rests in people using it without awareness or without approaching it correctly. As the cartoonist Roz Chaste demonstrates in her 2010 cover of The New Yorker, the generation’s focus has shifted and thus their focus is slowly deteriorating (Chaste 174). The perception of social media is not the reality of the world. The speed of internet research does not match the quality of a contemplative walk outside. Convenient knowledge has become an addiction, yet ignorance spreads without temperance. Modern surveillance is unparalleled and yet crime is still rampant. Humanity is creeping toward a second Tower of Babel as globalization creates homogeneity. Pleasure is often overwhelming without a mature understanding of it. For example, a toddler does not understand the consequences of eating his entire birthday cake. Similarly, this generation, when encountered with the novelty of modern technology, is not aware of the consequences of its use and is not capable of using it correctly, without another “tool” or set of “values.” 
            In the end, the millennial generation is drowning because they do not know how to swim in a sea of knowledge. This sea of knowledge—of technology—is innocent, without moral value or conviction. Its tide will rise and fall and it will continue to be the source of life for new ideas, creations, and advances. But, biologically, a human cannot drink from the sea—from salt water—and still live. He must either know that he cannot drink it or he must know how to remove the salt. Similarly, the millennial generation cannot live on technology, but they are unaware that depending on it solely will be to their destruction unless they learn to discern what is and what is not. They have bitten into the apple—eaten the fruit from Tree of Knowledge—but the question is: how will they use it? 

Works Cited
Bauerlein, Mark. The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and
Jeopardizes Our Future (or, Don't Trust Anyone under 30). New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2008. N. pag. Print.
Chast, Roz. "Shelved." New Yorker 18 Oct. 2010: n. pag. Print.
Carr, Nicolas."Is Google Making Us Stupid?" Atlantic 1 July 2008: n. pag. Atlantic. Atlantic
Monthly Group, Web. 21 Sept. 2014.
Johnson, Steven. "Your Brain on Video Games." Discover 24 July 2005: n. pag. Discover.
Kalmbach Publishing. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.Chast, Roz. "Shelved." New Yorker 18 Oct. 2010: n. pag. Print.
Thompson, Clive. "The New Literacy." Wired. Wired, 24 Aug. 2009. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.

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