Smart Goldfish

The clock is tick-tick-ticking off its judgments. Tickstupid. Tick – Hey, stupid.

It’s new. I bought it for six bucks at the local five-and-dime. La Virgen de Guadalupe smiles serenely from its face, held aloft by angels. There were two options: burgundy or black; but the black ones were misprints, stretched wide, turning La Virgen into La Gorda.

As I hung up the new prize, I told my wife about the apparent dumbing down of America that’s been going on behind our backs. I’d heard all about it while I waited in line.

I just found out my kids don’t know how to read a clock. Had to teach them, myself,” said a round woman standing behind me while she studied the clock in my hands. “They’re in high school, for chrissake.”

I nodded sympathetically and put my purchase on the counter.

The cashier had been eavesdropping and piped in, “And they don’t know how to count back change, either. If the register messes up, they’re all, ‘What do I do? What do I do?’ ”

Don't Look HereAs I told the story to my wife, I mimed a panicking teenager, flailing my arms; coughing and sputtering. I set the clock onto the nail, stepped back and frowned. Off center.

Lousy kids,” I said.

Adults, too. Some of my friends have literally never cracked a book. And someone who gets passed that splash photo and reads as far as this sentence? Forget it.

The usual culprit, I told her, is that evil bastard Internet; with its facebookings and bandwidths and bloogeldy-blogs (Not, though). “They’re shortening our attention spans and turning us all into drooling idiots, staring at big, bright pictures while grnk tss tss grRRRAWd Dammit!”

The taste of blood in my mouth. I’d bitten my tongue.

“There’s Science, dag-blast-it!” I hollered while grabbing my face.

And there is, too. Just ask Google.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education conducted its first international comparison of literacy and math skills in 23 industrialized nations. The results: “Americans ages 16 to 65 fall below international averages in basic problem-solving, reading and math skills.” In reading, only five countries did worse than the US. In math, only two.

When it comes to reading, the numbers are sad. In Jonathan Kozol’s Illiterate America, the given amount of adult Americans who can read an eighth-grade level book is only 50 percent. And a 2007 report by the National Endowment For the Arts states that the number of 17-year-olds who never read for pleasure increased from 9 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004.

That was a decade ago (in case you’re having trouble with the math), when the internet was still trying to figure out what it was for. I’m sure the stats are crazy low, now that we carry around entertainment centers in our pockets.

Sad-Cat-1Proven, thanks to a study conducted last year by OMD UK, an advertising company that was researching the effectiveness of internet ads by observing consumers’ behavior when it came to juggling devices. They wanted to see if someone was likely to see an ad on the internet, then buy the product later on their phone, etc.  They found that the average consumer swaps devices 21 times an hour, and the number of people using multiple devices simultaneously has increased 500 percent over the past three years.

All of this jumping from one machine to another has turned our already poor powers of concentration into a joke. The National Center for Biotechnology Information says the average adult attention span in 2013 was 8 seconds. Down from 12 seconds in 2010. They also point out (gleefully, I might add) that the attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds.  And according to a YouTube video I saw, while training bombardiers during World War II (an incredibly stressful job, needing an almost superhuman amount of focus), it was found that their attention could be held for up to twenty minutes.

On the right of that video, in the column with related links, I saw one about training your mind for instant focus and clarity, so I checked that out, too. Interesting stuff. I watched most of it and then turned to one with a puppy running in a grassy field to the Benny Hill theme.

Then I found this thing:

Apparently, a Cheerios commercial depicting an interracial couple caused a stir last year, and the folks over at The Fine Brothers filmed some kids’ reactions to it.  None of the children are able to figure out why they’re being shown the video, and when they are finally told what the controversy is, they all look pretty confused.

Which means that while they might not be able to read the hands of a clock, they’ve still managed to somehow slough off some of that weird racial tension that the rest of us have been carrying around for millennia.

That actually sounds kind of smart..

I showed the video to my buddy Josh Lee and told him how no one can count back change or read a clock anymore. He said, “Yeah. And no one knows what a sundial is, either. Who cares?”