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Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today's Pop Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarterby Steven Johnson
"[A]t first, Johnson's argument does sound as shocking as if your doctor had advised you to eat more donuts and, for God's sake, to try and stay away from spinach. But Johnson is a forceful writer, and he makes a good case; his book is an elegant work of argumentation, the kind in which the author anticipates your silent challenges to his ideas and hospitably tucks you in, quickly bringing you around to his side." Farhad Manjoo, Salon.com (read the entire Salon.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
The $10 billion video gaming industry is now the second-largest segment of the entertainment industry in the United States, outstripping film and far surpassing books. Reality television shows featuring silicone-stuffed CEO wannabes and bug-eating adrenaline junkies dominate the ratings. But prominent social and cultural critic Steven Johnson argues that our popular culture has never been smarter.
Drawing from fields as diverse as neuroscience, economics, and literary theory, Johnson argues that the junk culture we're so eager to dismiss is in fact making us more intelligent. A video game will never be a book, Johnson acknowledges, nor should it aspire to be — and, in fact, video games, from Tetris to The Sims to Grand Theft Auto, have been shown to raise IQ scores and develop cognitive abilities that can't be learned from books. Likewise, successful television, when examined closely and taken seriously, reveals surprising narrative sophistication and intellectual demands.
Startling, provocative, and endlessly engaging, Everything Bad Is Good for You is a hopeful and spirited account of contemporary culture. Elegantly and convincingly, Johnson demonstrates that our culture is not declining but changing — in exciting and stimulating ways we'd do well to understand. You will never regard the glow of the video game or television screen the same way again.
"Worried about how much time your children spend playing video games? Don't be, advises Johnson — not only are they learning valuable problem-solving skills, they'd probably do better on an IQ test than you or your parents could at their age. Go ahead and let them watch more television, too, since even reality shows can function as 'elaborately staged group psychology experiments' to stimulate rather than pacify the brain. With the same winning combination of personal revelation and friendly scientific explanation he displayed in last year's Mind Wide Open, Johnson shatters the conventional wisdom about pop culture as pabulum, showing how video games, television shows and movies have become increasingly complex. Furthermore, he says, consumers are drawn specifically to those products that require the most mental engagement, from small children who can't get enough of their favorite Disney DVDs to adults who find new layers of meaning with each repeated viewing of Seinfeld. Johnson lays out a strong case that what we do for fun is just as educational in its way as what we study in the classroom (although it's still worthwhile to encourage good reading habits, too). There's an important message here for every parent — one they should hear from the source before savvy kids (especially teens) try to take advantage of it." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] fascinating book....Highly recommended..." Library Journal
"Stimulating, iconoclastic, and strikingly original." Atlantic Monthly
"[Johnson] makes the reader feel smart by providing new tools with which to understand technology." Wired
"Brisk, witty...and bolstered with research....Indispensable." Time
"Everything Bad Is Good for You is a lucid tour of the pop-culture landscape, and Johnson makes a sometimes rambling but altogether lively guide." Boston Globe
"Perhaps the best metaphor for this book is one the author would be proud of: a many-tiered video game. You're a little wary of the experience, but it's easy to get swept up in. And it's strangely satisfying to complete." Chicago Tribune
From the bestselling author of Mind Wide Open comes a groundbreaking assessment of popular culture as it's never been considered before: through the lens of intelligence.
Combining the deft social analysis of Where Good Ideas Come From with the optimistic arguments of Everything Bad Is Good For You, New York Times bestselling author Steven Johnsons Future Perfect makes the case that a new model of political change is on the rise, transforming everything from local governments to classrooms, from protest movements to health care. Johnson paints a compelling portrait of this new political worldview — influenced by the success and interconnectedness of the Internet, by peer networks, but not dependent on high-tech solutions — that breaks with the conventional categories of liberal or conservative, public vs. private thinking.
With his acclaimed gift for multi-disciplinary storytelling and big idea books, Johnson explores this new vision of progress through a series of fascinating narratives: from the miracle on the Hudson” to the planning of the French railway system; from the battle against malnutrition in Vietnam to a mysterious outbreak of strange smells in downtown Manhattan; from underground music video artists to the invention of the Internet itself.
At a time when the conventional wisdom holds that the political system is hopelessly gridlocked with old ideas, Future Perfect makes the timely and inspiring case that progress is still possible, and that innovative strategies are on the rise. This is a hopeful, affirmative outlook for the future, from one of the most brilliant and inspiring visionaries of contemporary culture.
Forget everything youve ever read about the age of dumbed-down, instant-gratification culture. In this provocative, unfailingly intelligent, thoroughly researched, and surprisingly convincing big idea book, Steven Johnson draws from fields as diverse as neuroscience, economics, and media theory to argue that the pop culture we soak in every day—from Lord of the Rings to Grand Theft Auto to The Simpsons—has been growing more sophisticated with each passing year, and, far from rotting our brains, is actually posing new cognitive challenges that are actually making our minds measurably sharper. After reading Everything Bad is Good for You, you will never regard the glow of the video game or television screen the same way again.
With a new afterword by the author.
Steven Johnson's newest book, Future Perfect, is now available from Riverhead Books.
About the Author
Steven Johnson's three previous books are the New York Times bestseller Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life; Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software; and Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate. Cofounder of the online magazine FEED, Johnson currently writes the "Emerging Technology" column for Discover, is a contributing editor to Wired, writes regularly for Slate and the New York Times Magazine, and lectures widely.
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