Fat, Dumb, and Happy on the Internet


by Samuel Greengard

Pew Research Center's Internet & Life Project reports that 53 percent of young adults ages 18 to 29 go online on any given day for no particular reason. About 81 percent indicated that they do so occasionally. "Fun" was cited as the primary reason for using the Internet.

The study's lead author, Lee Rainie told the website Mashable that the Internet is becoming deeply ingrained in people's lives. "When they have some down time, more and more of them are finding the Internet a fun, diverting place to spend their leisure moments. It's not necessarily surprising to see that this is a favorite pastime of young adults," he stated.

I have nothing against entertainment and leisure. Most of us labor way too many hours and wind up feeling completely shredded by today's always-on workplace. Some mindless web browsing or pointless TV can be a good thing. And sometimes it's great to have absolutely no agenda.

But too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment, the U.S. ranks 25th worldwide in math scores, 17th in science scores and 14th in reading scores.

See also U.S. Students Lag In Global Competition

Visit India and you will see sample questions for engineering and accounting exams printed on the second or third page of a newspaper. Visit Shanghai, which ranked number one in the world on international exams, and you'll find students attending school and studying 10 hours or more per day.

Mosey into Anytown, USA and you're pretty much guaranteed that the entire family is connected to a perpetual e-drip and infotainment stream. Now Pew tells us that for most us there's no motivation or purpose to going online, it's just another way to kill time and fill mental space.

Towers Wyatt practice leader Laura Sejen says that companies across a wide swath of industries face growing challenges in finding talent. Consider this: engineers and medical and IT professionals face unemployment rates around 4.2 percent, while high school grads are hovering at 10 percent. The figure jumps to 14.3 percent for those without a high school diploma.

See also Talent Crisis Looms for Global Companies

We vote with our dollars, clicks and eyeballs every day and, ultimately, we create the exact society we collectively choose. In the end, perhaps we should ponder how the endless and limitless pursuit of "fun" and diversion helps America deal with the competitive pressures of the digital age.