Is the Internet Destroying a Generation?

Trevor Baylis, one of Britain’s best-known inventors, said that the Internet is depriving children of crucial skills and knowledge, leaving the “Google generation” in danger of becoming “brain-dead.”

Baylis, inventor of the wind-up radio and numerous devices for the disabled, was profiled by the Daily Mail.

Baylis is concerned by what he sees happening to our youngsters. He said that he began inventing things when he was 5 or 6, making new devices out of parts he would find in the neighborhood garbage.

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Eventually, a neighbor gave him a set of Meccano, Britain’s version of an Erector set, and his imagination took off. He worries that today’s kids cannot build things with their hands any more.

They are dependent on Google searches. A lot of kids will become fairly brain-dead if they become so dependent on the Internet, because they will not be able to do things the old-fashioned way,” he said.

He’s got a valid point. I’m sure you’ve seen the effects he’s talking about in the children you know. Where only a generation or two ago, kids would play incessantly with anything from Tinker Toys and Lego to Erector sets and model kits, so many children today want nothing more than to sit in front of a computer screen and click buttons in video games.

I recall during my own childhood, I wasn’t so much into the Erector set on my shelf, but I was forever building things out of plastic kits. Models, wind-up toys and homemade engines covered every flat surface in my room and eventually hung from almost every available inch of space on the ceiling. I amassed several boxes of spare parts and decals with which I built a small fleet of space vehicles, some of which actually flew with model rocket engines.

All of my friends were the same way, forever taking apart things and putting them back together in new configurations. When we went camping, we would build rope bridges and shelters out of tree branches. We even tried to build a canoe, though it didn’t stay afloat for long.

In today’s children, though, there often seems an alarming lack of curiosity or willingness to try new things. I’ve seen kids who profess to have an interest in robotics completely ignore a robotics kit in favor of  robot-themed Internet sites that don’t really teach them anything.

Even something like whittling can teach you how to use your hands as tools to express your imagination. There’s wisdom in simple things like a knife and a piece of wood that I have yet to find anywhere in the Internet.

Our emphasis on computers seems to be creating a level of disengagement from the real world that I can’t help but think is very unhealthy for individuals and for our society.

Computers have become a crutch in public education, which now expects children to type before some of them have even mastered cursive writing. Online video lessons are slowly replacing face-to-face interaction with a teacher and other students. Text messaging and email are the new social venues.

Families who have opted for homeschooling to keep their kids out of that environment are facing uphill battles as states like California try to make homeschool more regulated and regimented by forcing homeschoolers to use the same curriculum as public school children.

The role of video games in many mass killings, like those in Newtown, should serve as a warning.

Perhaps this digital alienation is an accident, just one of those shortsighted, foolish errors in judgment we humans tend to make. Or perhaps there’s a reason some people in the halls of influence would want it to come about.

In any case, it grows clearer by the day that the more we allow our children to retreat into a digital cocoon, the greater the disservice we are doing them.

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