Everything Bad is Good for You
We recently pitched for some Playstation work and as part of the background research for our presentation I remembered reading Malcolm Gladwell's review of this book in the New Yorker magazine. The article itself gives a great over view of the book and one I could never hope to match. However, I thought the book would make great holiday reading and so on my recent holiday in Italy devoted a day to it.
Steven Johnson is a good writer, he's not in the same league as Gladwell but nonetheless is easy and engaging to read. He puts the concept behind the book into an interesting context, one that many boys will have experienced.
As the name suggests the book argues that popular culture that has consistently been seen as unrewarding trash and not in the league of the golden ages of culture is actually helping us to become more intelligent.
For example, while an episode of Dragnet would have a completely linear story line, its modern day equivilent, say The Sopranos, would have over 10 woven into it. A much more complex mental proposition. In addition, we would be expected to spot cultural refrences, in jokes from previous series and episodes, and also understand that characters might be talking about future events or events that we as an audience may not have seen.
Johnson argues that not only have critically acclaimed TV programmes become more complex and therefore more testing for our brains, but so have so called junk TV shows. He cites reality shows such as Big Brother or Survivor that display complex social networks and show us how to interperate peoples actions.
Johnson takes his argument into video games, often seen as one of societies pariahs. He argues that the complex world of modern video games teaches us valuable lessons in the real world. Johnson sites the Sims and Sim City as perfect examples of engaging youngsters in real world issues.
Everything Bad is Good For You is a very interesting and well written book. It's central theory appears sound and argues that whilst new media is good, it is not a complete replacement for reading books, going to the theatre or other cultural experiences. Whilst we didn't win the pitch, for anyone interested in marketing TV shows or video games this book is a must read. For anyone else, it's an interesting and witty read that will make for some interesting discussions.