The [Tuesday] Papers
I read Lewis Lazare's column today on a book called The Dumbest Generation with interest because for the last couple of years Lazare has called me up periodically to complain about how dumb young people are these days, and he usually blames the Internet.
Why he calls me, I don't know. I've never met the man.
I also don't believe today's generation is dumber than those who came before because they don't read newspapers. I think newspapers are dumber.
And I'm not sure where a Sun-Times columnist gets off complaining that the Internet is dumbing down America while the paper is running a "Which Team's Fans Are Hotter?" contest.
The last time I spoke with Lazare, which was a few months ago, he was complaining about Facebook. Now, I'm a Facebook fan. It's very powerful, and I've hardly begun to exploit all of its capabilities. My favorite part of it are my friends' highly amusing Status Updates and the Pieces of Flair they send me. I feel smarter after spending time on Facebook; I feel dumber after reading the local newspapers.
Of course, they don't serve the same purpose, though an increasing number of newspapers see Facebook as a fruitful distribution system for their work - including the Tribune and Sun-Times. Maybe that's what was getting Lazare down, but it became quickly apparent to me that he had no idea what he was talking about.
"Um, have you ever seen Facebook?" I finally asked him.
"So you don't know what you're talking about!"
I'm not trying to pick on Lazare - well, actually I am - but he's emblematic of a newspaper creature that is just beyond me. See, he didn't want to know what he was talking about. He just didn't want to know.
As I've written before, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool newspaper lover. I've read newspapers since I was old enough to crawl to the door and get one. I'm one of those people who has said things all my life like "There's printer's ink in my veins."
But newspapers went off the rails at just the moment the Internet flourished as an even better place to do journalism and communicate with people. It should have been a glorious melding of the minds for a better, more creative and fun and civically inspired tomorrow, but all newspaper people could see was the threat, not the opportunity.
That may be changing out of necessity, but there are still an awful lot of Lazares out there, and they will not be the ones who will save news organizations; they instead are millstones dragging everyone else down. And how smart of a generation is that?
In today's column, Lazare approvingly recites what is apparently the author's complaint that a majority of young people polled use the Internet as an "instrument of peer contact."
I guess that's a smart person's way of saying they use the Internet to talk to their friends. The horror! (And we should only use the telephone in case of emergency! And stop doing that crossword puzzle - the newspaper isn't a toy!)
The evidence behind this complaint is a poll of University of Illinois-Chicago students that found that Facebook and MySpace were their favorite Internet destinations.
"Only 5 percent of those polled regularly checked out a blog or forum on politics, economics, law or policy," Lazare writes.
I have a feeling that's 4 percent more than the number of newspaper folk who check out "blogs or forums on politics, economics, law or policy."
I'd sure like to see how that question was worded. (And really, must one read a law blog to qualify as smart?)
Lazare, whom I'm quite certain has never read any such "blog or forum," should be heartened. Isn't that the stuff that's dumbing us down? Isn't it good then that our youth aren't polluting their minds with that crap? And is that to say that previous generations spent their time poring over policy journals and economics texts?
I could never figure out Lazare's argument outside of the fact that young people these days aren't familiar with the Broadway shows he thinks constitutes cultural literacy.
But maybe the giveaway is the apparent point of his column today: "Can such a generation of young people under 30 - and no doubt generations that will follow - be expected to have the intellectual wherewithal to create advertising that is more than a collection of juvenile punch lines?"
Is that what this is really all about?
As an advertising columnist, he should know that A) advertising has never been smarter; B) the Internet has spawned a creative explosion of new kinds of advertising; and C) who cares! It's advertising!
So enough already with the Internet is Evil thing. It's boring, it's stale, and it's dumb.
But then, here's Lazare's version of coming out forcefully against the Olympic bid:
"OK. We've made it over the first of many bigger Olympic hurdles to come," he wrote in April 2007. "So, please, let's get down to the serious business of developing an Olympic marketing plan that really rocks . . . now we really have to show the world why the world must come to Chicago for the 2016 Olympics."
Later, Lazare ended a series of columns complaining about the city's Olympic logo with this: "Sadly, our underwhelming new logo won't help our cause much in the good fight that is ahead."
Yes, the good fight. The one you told me was a waste of money.
Now, is that because young people might be reading? Because I thought we established that they weren't.
Perhaps the airline will revisit the Beachwood's merger recommendations.
And that pitcher is rumored to be C.C. Sabathia.
The Beachwood Tip Line: Hub and spoke.
Posted on June 24, 2008
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