The Dumbing Down of America: Someone Got it Right

In 1996, concerned about Americans losing the ability to understand, think, and question, someone wrote:

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time–when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical facilities in decline, unable to distinguish what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing it, back into superstition and darkness.

Some readers have surely guessed that the author was Carl Sagan. He voiced the above concerns in The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. So much of the above rings true. The major industries built on Western technologies have moved mostly to places like China, and fewer and fewer people are in possession of more and more world-changing technology. The technology have-nots and understand-nots are left to stare at the displays of electronic devices no longer made in their own country. Another Sagan prophecy that has come painfully true is the lack of political leadership that understands the issues at hand.

Sagan went on:

The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudo-science and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.

Again, Sagan demonstrated great foresight. He probably didn’t have anything like social media in mind when he wrote the above, but a thoughtlessly shared meme in Facebook is a good analog to the sound bites he worried were a sign of the dumbing down of America. And the credulity Sagan worries about can be seen in the proliferation of conspiracy theories and the rise of deniers of the plain truths that science has taught us about the world.

Although the operative technologies have shifted since then, Sagan was able to prophesize correctly the future 21 years away. Is there someone today who can, with as much insight, prophesize the world in 2038? If there is, I suspect such a person spends very little time sharing visual sound bites  on social media.

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