Sunday, December 04, 2005

Book Review - Everything Bad is Good for You: How today's popular culture is making us smarter

Today's book review is Everything Bad is Good for You: How today's popular culture is making us smarter, by Steven Johnson. I actually bought this book for E, as he is a computer games devotee from way back, and has expounded on their educational aspects before.

In the end, he read a few chapters, and I read it from cover to cover while he was playing computer games. According to this book, that probably makes him smarter than me.

The thesis of the book is that popular culture, by growing ever more complex, has dragged our intelligence up with it. He contrasts popular television shows of today with those of 30 years ago, and shows how much more complicated the story lines and character development have become. He describes at some length the level of persistence and serious thinking that goes into solving today's popular culture computer games, and how your brain is being trained by the experience. And he points out how even television that is universally regarded as junk is far more complex than the equivalent television of 30 years ago.

It would be easy to misrepresent this book as suggesting that all popular culture is good, and therefore kids should be forcefed on a diet of Grand Theft Auto.

This book is a reaction (possibly an over-reaction, but not by much) to all those parents and teachers who are inclined to think of all of popular culture as a dumbing down of the good old days of sophisticated entertainment. His point, forcefully and well made, is that the structure of popular entertainment these days is sophisticated, requires concentration, and forces people to exercise their brains in its consumption.

He gives some great examples from the whole spectrum of entertainment (even Finding Nemo gets its own structural analysis). While anyone who has ever played a video game will find his explanation of your thought processes while doing so a bit patronising, it is a welcome advance to have them taken seriously as entertainment and culture, and not the punching bag of right and left wingers who would never be seen dead actually playing one.

It was an easy read, and it left me wondering whether I should be playing more computer games, rather than wasting my time reading books.


At 10:53 am, Anonymous elsewhere said...

How do you manage to read so much?!

At 11:44 am, Blogger Jennifer said...

Right now I'm cheating and reviewing books I read this year. But I'm hoping to catch up over christmas/ New Year so I can keep going with one a week.

But the other answer is I don't watch much TV these days.

At 1:00 pm, Blogger Anne Zelenka said...

I read that book too and enjoyed it. My nine-year-old son read it cover to cover and has been quoting it to me ever since.


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