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Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter Hardcover – May 5, 2005
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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 foodthe 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.
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Top customer reviews
This informal text is what makes the book an easy and enjoyable reading. However, as a scientific result, the book is not completely sound, since his conclusions are based only on what he think is happening and the supportive that is not necessarily correlated with his findings.
Parents, researchers and educators will find the book provocative. Actually, it defends that beyond content, form is also important, and maybe more important when we are talking about the new media (basically TV and games).
As a general reader, it is a very good book. As a position book, it really makes the author's point of view. However, scientific oriented readers will feel something is missing.
I found it to be pretty good, although not fantastic. The early parts in which Johnson describes his childhood experiences with baseball games and D&D closely mirrored my own, and I found myself pleasantly reminiscing about those days. I had no real disagreements with any of the arguments he put forth, and overall this book was a well-written and fun read.
However, I was a little disappointed by the depth of it. Johnson goes through modern video gaming and reality TV, and although it's all interesting stuff, I started to feel that he spent a lot of his time repeating myself. That is, he gave examples of the same ideas over and over. While all the examples were effective, it became a tad redundant, and by the end, I was wishing that the book was just denser and deeper, a heavier exploration. Of course, with this subject matter, perhaps it is self-limiting with regards to depth.
It is a good book, but there's just not enough to it to be totally satisfying. This would've probably been better a large essay in a compilation of futurist and modern thought papers. Still, it is a worthwhile read.
As a high school teacher, it's demonstrated the importance of the popular media consumed by our modern adolescents and given me a lot of ideas to be able to use the modern mass media in my classroom, and the importance of it's use.
If you think pop culture is damaging our "classic" culture, line Postman (Amusing us to death) or Sartori (Homo videns), read this book.
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