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Book Review: Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson

Posted in Book Reviews, Digital Culture, Games, Movies, Technology by engtech on January 04, 2008

Book Reviews

Credits to Fred for introducing me to Everything Bad is Good for You: How Pop Culture is Making Us Smarter. The thesis behind the book is simple: if you look at the popular media culture over time it is becoming more and more complex. There have always been avant garde examples that wove complex stories but over time the same techniques are used in mainstream pop culture. IE: It is becoming common place to produce tv shows and movies that require multiple watchings to fully digest.

everything bad is good for youThe book notes that this is in deep contrast to the old mantra of television programming where you wanted to go for the least offensive programming possible to avoid loosing market share. Johnson posits that one of the causes for change is before we didn’t have the ability to easily rewatch a tv show or movie to catch something we might have missed on first viewing.

Johnson also notes that the decline in reading books isn’t as bad as many people make it out to be because we have so much more access to written content via the Internet and more importantly people are writing more than ever before. I thought this was a good counter argument; when I look at the online presence of myself and my friends most of them are doing some form of content creation instead of passive content consumption.

The one area where I felt the book fell weak was in proving that more complex content is making us smarter. Intuitively I agree with the hypothesis, but the only proof offered was how IQ scores have been increasing in the average to above average segment of the population, but IQ scores haven’t been increasing for the ultra-smart people. It makes sense because the complexity of pop culture might be enough to increase problem solving skills in the average person but wouldn’t be enough to increase skills in the exceptionally above average.

I recommend reading this book after reading Made to Stick because Everything Bad is Good for You is a perfect example of how to convey an idea that will stay with the reader. The only downside is that some of the pop culture examples are already getting long in the tooth and I already agreed with the hypothesis without needing that much evidence. It might make for a more interesting read if it challenged your perceptions.

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  1. Book Reader said, on January 04, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    I agree, just because something becomes more complex does not mean those using it become smarter. Look at cars for example, from my experience although cars are much more complex then they were 20 years ago (think of all the computers in cars now), the drivers of vehicles could use some serious education.

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