The Curse of the iPhone

Young people have never been famous for their political acumen. Recall the Children’s Crusade of 1212 when thousands of unarmed youngsters attempted to march to the Holy Land to convert Muslims with persuasion and divine inspiration. Nevertheless, the current generation exhibits a level of political naiveite that would certify the children of the 1212 disaster as rocket scientists.

Youthful foolishness is the default option of human nature, but there are mechanisms to overcome it. Of particular importance is encountering wiser adults who can tell you, for example, that a recent severe hurricane does not prove the world is ending due to people driving cars, or that claims of rape should not automatically be believed. This is what adults do: confront and educate young people, cure their foolishness, and otherwise impart wisdom. But this obligation requires human interaction, and if youngsters avoid this, then it is no wonder they arrive on campus with all the sophistication of a 10-year-old.

Today’s campuses are awash in student demands for safe spaces, speech codes, trigger warnings, and protection against microaggressions. A rumor that Charles Murray might soon give a lecture is sufficient to send the snowflakes off to a safe space to hear soft music and play with puppies to calm anxieties. Many willingly accept bold-faced lies about, for example, police killing thousands of unarmed blacks. Outrageous doomsday scenarios about “climate change” are taken as gospel truth even though barely anyone grasps the underlying science. Ditto for beliefs about rape culture, hate crimes, systemic racism, homophobia, and other alleged evils which are beyond questioning. Ideas such as defunding the police and socialism are no-brainers and nobody dares to differ.

Why does such nonsense flourish? Particularly since college students are, at least supposedly, smarter—or at least better educated—than average, and they voluntarily attend institutions committed to intellectual give and take? Obviously something has gone wrong in the path between kindergarten and freshman orientation. But what? Future analysis will no doubt offer copious explanations, but for the moment, I offer one possibility based on firsthand observations.

A major culprit disrupting the transmission of wisdom across generations is the cellphone. Thanks to these devices, young people may be physically present with adults but may nonetheless be incommunicado. We’ve all witnessed this disengagement, but we seldom recognized its importance—the breakdown of adult influence, a process akin to mothers unable to pass on colostrum and maternal antibodies to their newborns.

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