Steven Johnson, “Everything Bad Is Good For You”

9 Dec

Need a lift after reading Neal Postman? Grab “Everything Bad Is Good For You” and your favorite video game so that while you’re waiting for scenes to load, or fed up from being eradicated because you like to run into situations all “gung ho” style without a backup plan, you can read this book and pat yourself on the back for being smart… even if you refuse to use the crossbow which would have enabled you to acheive your objective without setting the entire camp into alarm. Go you.

*****

New School University, Media Studies, Fall 2008

Steven Johnson, Everything Bad Is Good For You, 20th Anniversary Edition, Riverhead Books, Copyright 2005, 2006 by Steven Johnson

Steven Johnson’s “Everything Bad Is Good For You” is a refreshing approach to the proliferation of pop culture and media. Ironically, Johnson’s contemporaries and the mainstream/pop point of view, if you will, is to look at pop culture as an epidemic that overwhelms rich, local cultures with media appealing to the lowest common denominator of intelligence; in effect, dumbing down content and depleting society of its movers and shakers by sitting them in front of plasma screens for hours on end. However, referencing empirical data and statistics in support of his argument, Johnson claims that through a process called the Sleeper Curve, pop culture actually makes people smarter.

The focal point to his argument lies in the definition of intelligence. Johnson claims that in the supersaturated media world today, content must be complex yet accessible enough to hold the attention span of its audience on the first view and on an infinite number of repeat viewings due to reruns and syndication, the internet, and the now basic yet diverse channels through which people have access to media. People aren’t zoning out when they watch television or play video games, people are zoning in while the brain fires away, working to make connections subconsciously.

Johnson shows the Sleeper Curve in action by refering to classic video games and the evolution of television sitcoms. Perhaps the reason why so many of his contemporaries are aghast at the modern media culture is that its avenue for learning is entertainment. Perhaps the value in traditional learning is the intent to learn something specific, rather than lessons predetermined by a media machine.

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