Texting Makes U Stupid

Article excerpt

Byline: Niall Ferguson

The U.S. is producing civilizational illiterates. How will they compete against America's global rivals?

The good news is that today's teenagers are avid readers and prolific writers. The bad news is that what they are reading and writing are text messages.

According to a survey carried out last year by Nielsen, Americans between the ages of 13 and 17 send and receive an average of 3,339 texts per month. Teenage girls send and receive more than 4,000.

It's an unmissable trend. Even if you don't have teenage kids, you'll see other people's offspring slouching around, eyes averted, tapping away, oblivious to their surroundings. Take a group of teenagers to see the seven wonders of the world. They'll be texting all the way. Show a teenager Botticelli's Adoration of the Magi. You might get a cursory glance before a buzz signals the arrival of the latest SMS. Seconds before the earth is hit by a gigantic asteroid or engulfed by a super tsunami, millions of lithe young fingers will be typing the human race's last inane words to itself:

C u later NOT :(

Now, before I am accused of throwing stones in a glass house, let me confess. I probably send about 50 emails a day, and I receive what seem like 200. But there's a difference. I also read books. It's a quaint old habit I picked up as a kid, in the days before cellphones began nesting, cuckoolike, in the palms of the young.

Half of today's teenagers don't read books--except when they're made to. According to the most recent survey by the National Endowment for the Arts, the proportion of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 who read a book not required at school or at work is now 50.7 percent, the lowest for any adult age group younger than 75, and down from 59 percent 20 years ago.

Back in 2004, when the NEA last looked at younger readers' habits, it was already the case that fewer than one in three 13-year-olds read for pleasure every day. …