All entries for Friday 29 April 2005
April 29, 2005
The New York Times recently published a substantial excerpt from the soon to be released book 'Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter,' from Steven Johnson. The book argues that many media traditionally thought to be harmful in fact have beneficial effects often overlooked. Using the TV show 24 as an example, he states:
For decades, we've worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-common-denominator standards, presumably because the ''masses'' want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the masses what they want. But as that ''24'' episode suggests, the exact opposite is happening: the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less. To make sense of an episode of ''24,'' you have to integrate far more information than you would have a few decades ago watching a comparable show. Beneath the violence and the ethnic stereotypes, another trend appears: to keep up with entertainment like ''24,'' you have to pay attention, make inferences, track shifting social relationships. This is what I call the Sleeper Curve: the most debased forms of mass diversion — video games and violent television dramas and juvenile sitcoms — turn out to be nutritional after all.
Steven Johnson’s blog contains another sample which playfully mocks those who consider reading to be inevitably more benficial than computer games.
But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path. You can't control their narratives in any fashion—you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. For those of us raised on interactive narratives, this property may seem astonishing. Why would anyone want to embark on an adventure utterly choreographed by another person? But today’s generation embarks on such adventures millions of times a day. This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they’re powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory process; it’s a submissive one. The book readers of the younger generation are learning to 'follow the plot' instead of learning to lead."
Of course, balance is essential when consuming information from any medium. A rejection of ‘traditional’ attitudes towards learning is as naïve as assuming a console holds the key to genius. The book promises to be pretty interesting.