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Flawed Causality, Fun Complexity

  • Mar 20, 2006
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I found Johnson's thesis interesting, because as a parent and dedicated reader I have steered my children (20/16/15) away from video games. We have never owned a dedicated game console, and only purchased a small set of video games for our PC.

However, I find one gap in his link between the rising IQ scores and the increased complexity of popular media (TV, video games, Internet): the IQ growth started in the immediate post-WWII years, but the complexity factors he talks about really didn't kick in until the 1980s.

This is the same conundrum the global-warming folks face (climatological data shows global warming starting BEFORE the Industrial Revolution). Then how to explain the early year's rise in IQ scores? I guess Johnson would attribute those years to increased nutrition and better health after WWII? Maybe, but that does weaken the causal link between complex media and IQ scores.

Still, I thoroughly enjoyed and agreed with his discussion of complexity in TV shows, especially the so-called "reality" shows--finally, someone else who points out, as I have since the first Survivor, of which I watched one episode and have not watched another, that there is nothing real about handpicked contestants in unscripted actvities in artifical social and geographic settings. I still intensely dislike reality TV, but now understand some of the attraction.

And as a measure of the success of Johnson's argument, I am tempted to buy a copy of Grand Theft Auto to see what the fuss is about.

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More Everything Bad Is Good for You... reviews
review by . June 29, 2005
There's been a bubble of books lately by mainstream media "science and technology writers." Some gentleman who writes about "science" for The New Yorker (his name escapes me at the moment) and who recently penned something or other about trusting your mind comes to mind: pure pap and not science.     Steven Johnson follows in this vein. His thesis is that the generations of video and computer gameplayers and other fun-seekers are really expanding their intellects in a 21st Century …
About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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About this book


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 Goodbuilds 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 food–the 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 ...

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ISBN-10: 1573223077
ISBN-13: 978-1573223072
Author: Steven Johnson
Genre: Health, Mind & Body
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
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