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Everything Bad is Good for You [Paperback]

Our Price $ 13.60  
Retail Value $ 16.00  
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Item Number 392360  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   254
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1" Width: 5.25" Height: 7.75"
Weight:   0.5 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   May 2, 2006
Publisher   Riverhead Trade
Age  18
ISBN  1594481946  
EAN  9781594481949  

Availability  17 units.
Availability accurate as of Oct 21, 2016 11:04.
Usually ships within one to two business days from La Vergne, TN.
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Item Description...
Discusses the intellectual benefits of elements from modern popular culture, including video games and reality TV programs.

Publishers Description

Forget everything you've 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.

Buy Everything Bad is Good for You by Steven Johnson from our Christian Books store - isbn: 9781594481949 & 1594481946

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More About Steven Johnson

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Steven Johnson is the author of seven bestsellers, including Where Good Ideas Come From, The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, and Everything Bad Is Good for You, and is the editor of the anthology The Innovator s Cookbook. He is the founder of a variety of influential websites most recently, and writes for Time, Wired, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. He lives in Marin County, California, with his wife and three sons."

Steven Johnson currently resides in Brooklyn, in the state of New York.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Well-Written and Entertaining but Not Convincing at all  Oct 26, 2008
Steven Johnson's polemic can be read as a counter-argument to Neil Postman's influential classic "Amusing Ourselves to Death," and that's exactly what Mr. Johnson would like us to believe because he does mention Mr. Postman throughout his book and he takes as his foil the argument that mass entertainment is making us stupid, which is Mr. Postman's original thesis oversimplified.

Mr. Johnson examines three main forms of popular culture -- videogames, television, and the Internet -- and argue well that each in their own way are challenging brain function, and increasing our intelligence quotient. Mr. Johnson sees a virtuous cycle where popular culture is becoming more complicated and complex in order to entertain us by challenging us, and because we are challenged we participate in the process and demand to be challenged more, causing entertainment executives to produce ever more complex fare. For example, consider "Seinfeld" or "The Simpsons" which will have dozens of references and allusions and in-jokes that cannot be picked up on first glance. But thanks to syndication (which allows for repeated viewings of one show over a short time span) and the Internet (which allows for the fan base to discuss and dissect each show) "Seinfeld" and "The Simpsons" are rewarded for being complex because viewers can discover new things upon each viewing, and the success of "Seinfeld" and "The Simpsons" drives the competition to create more complicated and intelligent shows.

Now Mr. Johnson does concede that there's a lot of crap out there but this crap is a lot better than the crap of the past, and we should re-frame our understanding of popular culture. Instead of deriding popular culture as a whole we should separate the popular culture that is good at stimulating our brains (Sopranos, 24, Survivor, Grand Theft Auto) from the popular culture that's just complete crap (Three's Company, Dragnet, Fear Factor, Quake).

Mr. Johnson is a crisp and clear, economical and efficient writer, and the beauty and force of his writing often clouds the bad reasoning of his arguments. Mr. Johnson in his prologue says he grew up with playing games (a card game that simulates a baseball franchise, in fact), and it's obvious he's a big fan of video games. Mr. Johnson begins his argument with video games, and he's absolutely right that the video games of today is of startling complexity and sophistication that challenges the brain in ways never possibly imagined. In Starcraft, arguably the most brilliant game ever created and simply the best real-time strategy game ever made, a player must in real time consider resource allocation, army size and strength, order and compatibility in response to his opponent's possible strategies, the permutations of his opponent's army and base design, and the map terrain -- no wonder then that the competitive game's very best players are geniuses. Mr. Johnson also points out that, contrary to popular prejudice, video game players are active and social.

That may be very well true but then Mr. Johnson assumes that what's true of video game players must also be true of watchers of complicated television shows such as 24 and the Sopranos, with their multiple threads and complex web of relationships. Yes, 24 is entertaining but to suggest it can actually increase brain function is a bit of a stretch. Compared with Dragnet 24 is complicated but compared with Starcraft 24 is like a game of tic-tac-toe.

Mr. Johnson also makes the bad argument that the plot of 24 is like an intricate logical puzzle. If you actually plot out a season of 24 you'll realize that it works against logic, and not from logic. In the first season the show shows how it's logically impossible for Nina to be the mole but by the end of the season it's revealed she is the mole.

Another silly argument that Mr. Johnson makes pertains to reality television shows like Survivor. He argues that reality television is good for us because it trains us to read people better -- that may be true, Mr. Johnson, but wouldn't going out on a date or going out with friends or just interacting with your office colleagues be better?

Mr. Johnson simply ignores the argument of opportunity cost. If chatting online was the only possible source of social interaction then it's good for us -- but talking to someone face-to-face or even talking on the phone is so superior. (I've tried MSN messenger, and I feel it makes me stupid). Indeed, the anti-social aspects of watching television is an argument that Mr. Johnson completely ignores: it's hard to be a fan of 24 and not be paranoid about everyone and the world -- in fact, as 24 makes clear, the only people you can trust are psychopaths like Jack Bauer.

And the biggest problem with Mr. Johnson's argument is how he presents Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death." Neil Postman was not arguing that mass culture would lead to the death of intelligence but to the death of intellectualism -- how public intellectuals, intellectual issues, and intellectualism as a public good would all decline, and in that regard Mr. Postman's prophecy has proven true. Read the New Yorker and the Atlantic Monthly of today, and compare it with those of ten years ago, and you'll be shocked by the decline in intellectual gravity and depth.

Mr. Johnson is right in that dumb people are getting smarter but what he doesn't point out is that smart people are getting dumber, among many, many other things. And while we're amusing ourselves in more complex and complicated ways we're still amusing ourselves to death.
Not bad, better than expected  Oct 25, 2008
This books starts out on rather slippery footing, but gains a foothold in the subject quickly. Quite a bit of time is spent on the topics of modern television and video games, but that is perhaps because those two things occupy so much of our daily lives nowadays.

Johnson raises several salient points. I'm not yet sure how much of it I agree with, as some of the generalizations don't fit in my own household. But all in all, an interesting read, and doesn't take very long to get through.

If you're looking for some arguments to get your mom to stop picking on you for playing so much X-Box, this book is for you.
Doesn't back ideas up with evidence  Oct 14, 2008
You may agree or disagree with the argument presented by the author, it doesn't matter. I for one disagreed.

The main reason I disliked this book is not his thesis, it's the fact that he does not back up his points. For example, a quarter of the book is about why TV is actually good for you, but when he moves onto his discussion of the internet, his first arguments are that at least it's "better to have minds actively composing the soap opera of their own lives than zoning out in front of someone else's." (comparing blogging to tv) He contradicts his own argument at multiple points.

The problem is that the author seems to have started with a controversial idea, then grabbed for examples to back it up, rather than coming to a conclusion based upon the evidence. As other reviews stated, the examples are carefully chosen...

Not to mention the fact that he has no real scientific evidence presented in the book...

"Everything Bad" is middling  Sep 10, 2008
Steven Johnson is a man with a mission. He begins his book with a quote from conservative columnist George Will, who complains that modern culture is abysmally stupid and is "infantilizing" our children. Johnson vigorously disagrees. His thesis is that computer games, TV, movies, and the internet are actually making us smarter.

"Everything Bad is Good for You" is divided into two parts, the first analyzing the content of pop culture and the second investigating its effect on people. The opening section on video games is probably the best part of the book. Johnson shows that far from being simplistic, today's computer games are massively complex. To win, gamers must memorize enormous amounts of information, solve difficult puzzles, and keep many different goals in mind simultaneously.

The chapters on television and movies is less convincing, because Johnson focuses almost exclusively on numbers. Current movies and TV shows have more of everything: more characters, more plot lines, and more relationships. Johnson at one point says that a show like 24 has as many characters as a 19th century novel.

What he doesn't tackle is the question of whether more is always better. Might it be that current filmmakers rapidly switch from one thing to another because the audience lacks the patience to focus for a long time? After all, "Meet the Spartans" has hundreds of characters but is generally agreed to be the most moronic film ever made. "X3" introduced dozens of characters but never left any one on screen for more than 90 seconds at a time. Or going back to those 19th century novels, we'd surely agree that the relationships in Jane Austen were much deeper and more subtle than anything we see on TV.

The second half of the book is fairly disappointing compared to the first. Johnson wants to prove that popular culture actually is driving intelligence upward. The only evidence comes from "The Flynn Effect", the observed phenomenon that average IQ scores have risen steadily over the past fifty years. While the Flynn effect does exist, Johnson only touches briefly on the question of whether IQ scores are a reliable measure of intelligence. While they may be rising, other evidence suggests that brain power is dropping. For instance, far more college students are taking remedial classes now than were a generation ago.

Ultimately "Everything Bad is Good for You" is a highly worthwhile read, but for me it was not convincing. I give Johnson credit for many things. His book is crisp, succinct, well-written, and intellectually honest. In the end, though, it does not really refute what it claims to refute. There is ample evidence of the average person growing less mature. For example, young adults take longer than ever to get married, find full time jobs, move out of their parents' houses, and do other things commonly associated with maturity. I'm afraid that George Will may have had a point after all.
Elitism Rules! OK?  Jun 15, 2008
This is a provocative book which warrants serious consideration. The author postulates that through the device of the sleeper curve, the various technological developments which pervade popular culture are not dumbing down America, but rather leading to development of a broader range of skills than credited by academic experts.

He sets out his view in sections devoted to video games, film, and very briefly, the internet, and explores the differing skills which are exercised during their consumption.

As someone who has exhibited a preference for aspects of popular culture as opposed to high culture for most of my life, the argument is very attractive at the outset. As one delves deeper into the subject serious questions arise as to whether there is a general case to answer.

Consider video games, where our author testifies to the skills required to play some of the more complex games such as Grand Theft Auto. There is a strong case to be made here but the issue is rather deflated when one considers that the vast majority of game players consume sports and other games which are considerably less complex and demanding.

Film also has a substantial longevity in the popular pantheon of leisure activities. It manages to portray a story and certain sophisticated complexities but still lacks by far the great leap forward that one achieves through reading a novel.

I would reject a notion that the use of the internet provides much of an intellectual challenge, given the degree to which internet consumers access porn sites and where much of the content is clearly aimed at the lower end of the spectrum

Having said all of this, I believe that there is something in the authors argument, but in a more narrow sense. For myself I consider that there are a minority of people within our society who exhibit skill and knowledge improvements as a result of immersion in the complexities and sophistications of certain games, or movies or whatever. The question of whether they are smarter is debatable. I would suggest that the elite to whom I refer demonstrate aptitudes of learning from external stimuli whichare far greater that those of the general populace. This tends to suggest to me however, that those aptitudes are inherited and/or learnt from an environment and upbringing where parents encourage skills of learning and exploring, encouragement and direction etc.

All in all, a worthwhile book subject to some of the caveats which I have alluded to above.

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