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Everything Bad is Good for You [Kindle Edition]

Steven Johnson
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (124 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $10.99
You Save: $5.01 (31%)
Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

Forget everything you’ve ever read about the age of dumbed-down, instant-gratification culture. In this provocative, unfailingly intelligent, thoroughly researched, and surprisingly convincing big idea book, Steven Johnson draws from fields as diverse as neuroscience, economics, and media theory to argue that the pop culture we soak in every day—from Lord of the Rings to Grand Theft Auto to The Simpsons—has been growing more sophisticated with each passing year, and, far from rotting our brains, is actually posing new cognitive challenges that are actually making our minds measurably sharper. After reading Everything Bad is Good for You, you will never regard the glow of the video game or television screen the same way again.



With a new afterword by the author.



Steven Johnson's newest book, Future Perfect, is now available from Riverhead Books.





Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In his fourth book, Everything Bad Is Good for You, iconoclastic science writer Steven Johnson (who used himself as a test subject for the latest neurological technology in his last book, Mind Wide Open) takes on one of the most widely held preconceptions of the postmodern world--the belief that video games, television shows, and other forms of popular entertainment are detrimental to Americans' cognitive and moral development. Everything Good builds a case to the contrary that is engaging, thorough, and ultimately convincing.

The heart of Johnson's argument is something called the Sleeper Curve--a universe of popular entertainment that trends, intellectually speaking, ever upward, so that today's pop-culture consumer has to do more "cognitive work"--making snap decisions and coming up with long-term strategies in role-playing video games, for example, or mastering new virtual environments on the Internet-- than ever before. Johnson makes a compelling case that even today's least nutritional TV junk food–the Joe Millionaires and Survivors so commonly derided as evidence of America's cultural decline--is more complex and stimulating, in terms of plot complexity and the amount of external information viewers need to understand them, than the Love Boats and I Love Lucys that preceded it. When it comes to television, even (perhaps especially) crappy television, Johnson argues, "the content is less interesting than the cognitive work the show elicits from your mind."
Johnson's work has been controversial, as befits a writer willing to challenge wisdom so conventional it has ossified into accepted truth. But even the most skeptical readers should be captivated by the intriguing questions Johnson raises, whether or not they choose to accept his answers. --Erica C. Barnett

From Publishers Weekly

Worried about how much time your children spend playing video games? Don't be, advises Johnson—not only are they learning valuable problem-solving skills, they'd probably do better on an IQ test than you or your parents could at their age. Go ahead and let them watch more television, too, since even reality shows can function as "elaborately staged group psychology experiments" to stimulate rather than pacify the brain. With the same winning combination of personal revelation and friendly scientific explanation he displayed in last year's Mind Wide Open, Johnson shatters the conventional wisdom about pop culture as pabulum, showing how video games, television shows and movies have become increasingly complex. Furthermore, he says, consumers are drawn specifically to those products that require the most mental engagement, from small children who can't get enough of their favorite Disney DVDs to adults who find new layers of meaning with each repeated viewing of Seinfeld. Johnson lays out a strong case that what we do for fun is just as educational in its way as what we study in the classroom (although it's still worthwhile to encourage good reading habits, too). There's an important message here for every parent—one they should hear from the source before savvy kids (especially teens) try to take advantage of it. Agent, Lydia Wills at Paradigm. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 4416 KB
  • Print Length: 254 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead; 1 Reprint edition (May 2, 2006)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000OI1AB6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #311,351 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
134 of 144 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Much to recommend, but misses the big picture. June 28, 2005
Format:Hardcover
Johnson highlights the ways in which some pop-culture is in fact more intellectually demanding than that of the past. He points to TV programs such as Hill Street Blues, The Sopranos, Seinfeld, and The Simpsons, with their continuous stories, multiple plot threads, and their references to other pop-culture. He also wrote a great deal highlighting the depth and intricacy of many computer games.

I could quibble on a few points. I think he gives cinema a little too much credit, basing his argument there primarily on a few intelligent films whose box office success ranged from weak to moderate. Strangely absent from Johnson's discussion is popular music, with no disclaimer nor any word of explanation for this. Since music is obviously a vast part of the pop culture landscape, its exclusion scores as a major omission.

But these caveats aside, I found that on the whole Johnson presented a very convincing case that a significant part of pop culture is in fact getting smarter. But regarding his premise that people are getting smarter as a result, that's where he got it very wrong.

For direct corroboration, the only hard statistic Johnson cites is the fact that IQ scores have been rising about 3 points per decade. By his own admission, they have been rising steadily at that rate for the last 70 years or so. Yet he perceives the smartening of pop culture as having started in 1981 (with the premiere of Hill Street Blues). So it seems a bit tenuous to claim the two phenomena are related.

Furthermore, IQ scores only measure a narrow range of intellectual abilities. What they measure is a rather mechanical, almost mathematical, sort of logical ability.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tantalizing thesis, light on evidence for causality January 12, 2006
Format:Hardcover
Steven Johnson's newest book, "Everything Bad Is Good For You" makes the controversial claim that popular culture engages us in a kind of mental calisthenics, resulting in the drastic changes in IQ distribution seen in the last 50 years. He describes beneficial effects of changes in popular culture - changes that have often been decried as hallmarks of societal demise - and shows how these new forms of media exploit our natural reward circuitry. Echoing Marshall McLuhan, Johnson says it's not so much the content (or 'message') of cultural media like Grand Theft Auto and The Sopranos, but the multi-threaded, interactive style of delivery (the 'medium') that engages us in a cognitive workout, and ultimately results in the drastic IQ increases of post-World War II America.

Johnson begins his book with a vitriolic quote from George Will: "Ours is an age besotted with graphic entertainments. And in an increasingly infantilized society, whose moral philosophy is reducible to a celebration of 'choice,' adults are decreasingly distinguishable from children in their absorption in entertainments and the kinds of entertainments they are absorbed in - video games, computer games, hand-held games, movies on their computers and so on. This is progress: more sophisticated delivery of stupidity." This quote characterizes the dominant perspective on popular culture. But contrary to intuition, Johnson argues, today's most popular entertainment is enormously complex according to several different metrics, such as number of concurrent plot lines, the interdependence or 'nesting' of those plot lines, the Kolmogorov complexity of the networks relating the characters, and the kind of thinking required to make sense of all this complexity.
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110 of 136 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eye opening May 12, 2005
Format:Hardcover
Very good book, written from the perspective of a teenaged gamer made good.

Johnson played games as a kid, baseball strategy games, as well as Dungeons and Dragons, and one can detect a certain bias in his outlook. However, his statistical references and footnotes make this book a scholarly look at popular culture - in particular movies, TV and videogames - and is a nice refutation of the "our culture is going into the toilet" crowd.

Johnson argues - to me, convincingly - that even though modern mass market entertainment may appear "dumbed down", it really isn't, and that at a basic physical level, our brains are being made to work harder, get more exercise if you will, and develop higher cognitive functions as a result.

A very complex book written in easy to read language with convincing data to back up the arguments - disguised in a very palatable dialogue that doesn't seem like science at all. He even takes Marshall McLuhan to task on at least one of his conclusions - very daring, and in this case, pays off.

Johnson does miss out on one or two things - the ascendance of message boards is glossed over, or perhaps incorporated into "Internet" "email" and "IMs" in the discussion of why males watch about 1/5 as much TV as they did as little as five years ago.

As a fellow who grew up playing Advanced Squad Leader (arguably a set of rules even more dense than AD&D), I could relate to his argument that kids will learn horribly complex procedures in the name of fun (as he did with his baseball games and D&D sets) and may very well be better for it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good short read and thought provoking
Interesting read. I can agree with much of the logic behind Johnson's argument about why certain frivolous habits can be beneficial. Read more
Published 2 days ago by Alejandro Guzman
4.0 out of 5 stars Presents a good case for popular media
In Everything Bad is Good for You Steven Johnson makes the case that today’s popular culture is actually making us smarter. Read more
Published 4 months ago by John Martin
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Condition
The book was received in good condition! It is a wonderful book to read! I really enjoyed reading the book!!!
Published 4 months ago by T-i
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny
I got this book for a class. I wasn't enthused at first, but once I started reading it, I could not put it down. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Alisha
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be required reading.
Steven Johnson defends video games and mass media. And he does it well. Anyone in education should read this, as it reframes the way people use their brain on a daily basis. Read more
Published 5 months ago by corydave
4.0 out of 5 stars Very enlightening
I enjoyed this book. The title is humorous also. This was another assigned reading in my Master's Program, and unlike some of the other books I really appreciated the insight... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Robert Varga
2.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining but weak
I thought the arguments were a bit weak. It seemed a bit of a stretch on an interestingly provocative premise.
Published 7 months ago by Public Defender
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything bad is good for you? Whaaat?
Steven Johnson begins Everything Bad Is Good For You with a claim: "This book is an old-fashioned work of persuasion that ultimately aims to convince you of one thing: that... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Kali
4.0 out of 5 stars You'll learn a lot of what you thought was wrong
A lot of the myths of video games and TV is proven false and it's very interesting to learn how everything that is thought to be bad for you is not as harmful as it is made out to... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Tarek
3.0 out of 5 stars Has a few good things to take away but otherwise pretty banal
There were a few things that I thought were interesting, like the old fantasy baseball games and multi-threaded narratives, but otherwise the other 90% of the book was pretty banal... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Mark Twain
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More About the Author

Steven Johnson is the best-selling author of seven books on the intersection of science, technology and personal experience. His writings have influenced everything from the way political campaigns use the Internet, to cutting-edge ideas in urban planning, to the battle against 21st-century terrorism. In 2010, he was chosen by Prospect magazine as one of the Top Ten Brains of the Digital Future.

His latest book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, was a finalist for the 800CEORead award for best business book of 2010, and was ranked as one of the year's best books by The Economist. His book The Ghost Map was one of the ten best nonfiction books of 2006 according to Entertainment Weekly. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Steven has also co-created three influential web sites: the pioneering online magazine FEED, the Webby-Award-winning community site, Plastic.com, and most recently the hyperlocal media site outside.in, which was acquired by AOL in 2011. He serves on the advisory boards of a number of Internet-related companies, including Meetup.com, Betaworks, and Nerve.

Steven is a contributing editor to Wired magazine and is the 2009 Hearst New Media Professional-in-Residence at The Journalism School, Columbia University. He won the Newhouse School fourth annual Mirror Awards for his TIME magazine cover article titled "How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live." Steven has also written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, and many other periodicals. He has appeared on many high-profile television programs, including The Charlie Rose Show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. He lectures widely on technological, scientific, and cultural issues. He blogs at stevenberlinjohnson.com and is @stevenbjohnson on Twitter. He lives in Marin County, California with his wife and three sons.

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