We're losing the patience developed through reflection and perception provided by leisurely reading long and complex books, or even magazine articles and the op-ed pages. Camille Paglia, who writes about culture, likens the young to the astronaut in Stanley Kubrick's epic film "2001: A Space Odyssey," who spins helplessly in space when a master computer goes amok. "The new generation, raised on TV and the personal computer but deprived of a solid primary education, has become unmoored from the mother ship of culture, " she writes in "The Magic of Images," an analysis of the ways education fails the young. The young are flooded with disconnected images and fragments of ideas. They're left without the ability to make or sometimes even understand coherent argument.
Most of the current political candidates are smart and well educated, but they dumb down content to fit the audience, tailoring their messages to a shrinking framework. Youngsters for whom flickering images become more important than an expanded vocabulary built up through books depend ever more on the acceleration of the delivery of dribs and drabs of information. "The computer, with its multiplying forums for spontaneous free expression from e-mail to listservs and blogs, has increased facility and fluency of language but degraded sensitivity to the individual work and reduced respect for organized argument, the process of deductive reasoning," says Paglia.
How we process information tears down the wall between the popular culture of entertainment and the side of politics that enables us to critically assess character and measure intellectual content. When I watch from my treadmill episodes of the television series "24," which depends on intense action drawing on images guided by fast-moving technology, I run twice as fast as when I watch the news. When it's over I look forward to settling back into the printed word. The tiny tots raised in front of the television screen may never learn to do that.