Been doing a fair amount of offline reading so haven’t had as much to write about. Read Everything Bad Is Good for You and was pretty impressed. The book starts as almost a defense of video games as a complex medium, despite it’s being maligned at best as overly simplistic and at worst as degrading society. Steven Johnson’s assertions in the first half of the book as he traces the intricacy in popular culture through television, film and gaming are a great summation but no surprise to anyone familiar with Marshal Macluhan.
Where the meat of the book lies is in the second half when he supports his argument that not only is popular culture more complex than it was 30 years ago but it actually is making society smarter. He uses sociological studies to prove his points and in doing so goes one further in opening up the debate about the effects media has on our minds — even to the point of increasing IQs.
While in California (my two week trip was also a reason for my lack of posts) I had a few conversations about Blogging, both writing and reading. Most I’ve spoken with seem to express having too little time to spend pouring over blogs and even less to write their own content. It’s interesting because those same contacts would likely agree with Johnson’s argument about the complexity of television with multithreading.
In the same span of time friends, would tell me they didn’t have the time to read blogs or write about their own interests they would extol the virtues of decoding an episode of Lost. I have many friends- smart friends mind you- here in NYC that spend hours on World of Warcraft. I don’t doubt that my acquaintances would feel vindicated by reading Johnson’s tome. In fact, reading it myself I’ve been somewhat inspired to pay more attention to T.V. and look into video gaming as a practice of sharpening my mind.
Johnson himself doesn’t touch much on Blogging and the internet. Sure he mentions how it opens new avenues for viewers and players to critique and dissect T.V. and video games. He also mentions the benefit of all that reading that’s going on since he is quick to note the virtues of rich narrative over the cognitive gains of video games and visual media.
What I wonder, however, is a deeper elaboration on how Blogging and the internet affect society and the central nervous system the same way Macluhan remarks about T.V. and its effects.
This isn’t so much of a criticism of the book, in fact, I was very taken by its arguments and the questions it raised. I’m a huge defender of popular culture as a valid and important discourse. I guess I’m just looking for Blogging to be considered in the same light.
Interesting topic choice…. I’ve seen increasing research that while our society’s collective IQ has indeed increased along with the increase in digital multitasking, the research also suggests that we’re also losing our ability to actually sit down and focus on a single task. There’s no question that we’re getting better at doing more things at once, but the actual level of skill and focus we put into each task is questionable.
On a similar line, my mother just retired from her job that she had for over 30 – maybe even nearly 40 – years. She’s 61; most people in her generation did similar things – graduated school, focused on a single career and kept at it. That seems nearly unthinkable for the current 21-30 generation, and the ones coming up – just about everyone I know has already had a gazillion jobs, and people seem almost surprised to hear about someone staying at a single job for even a year, let alone having a job where they feel secure, comfortable, and well-treated enough to want to stick to it. It used to be that people really only changed jobs during a mid life crisis or something; now it’s something that half the people I know in that age range do every couple of months. We’re always moving, changing, and advancing. That, and we all just get bored so much more quickly. Whether or not that’s a sign of increasing general intelligence, or if it means we’re also becoming less complacent is debatable.
This sounds like such a blanket statement, but it seems like not only are we becoming more transient, but we’re also just becoming far more disposable.
One reason I believe that my generation is so much less stable in terms of commitment, in personal-life as well as in employment, is that life expectancy is so much higher, or at least our knowledge of it. Like it or not the boomers may have us beat in that arena since quality health-care, social security and environmental issues seem less dismal for their gray years than for ours.
The fact is, however, that my grandparent’s generation lived in post-war lifestyle that encouraged them to marry young, trust their employer for benefits and job-security and reap the rewards later in life. Such is my parents’ paradigm to follow. For us though the prospects look more abysmal because we’ve seen the system’s failing points.
Our parents followed their parents’ example and instead of prosperity found divorce, job-instability, reduction of or lack of health-care and an uncertain retirement future. They may be the last of the lucky ones. Our generation is swimming around looking for a new paradigm simply because we cannot easily be fooled into following the old one blindly. I think it’s a good thing even with the risk.
To relate this discussion to pop culture may seem odd but if we look at the cognitive effects new media has on our perception I think we may find yet another avenue where our generation is looking for a way out of the old paradigm.
I find it interesting that this is the second counter-argument to the book that I’ve heard that focuses on multi-tasking being possibly detrimental to cognitive understanding. As far as I can recall Johnson himself doesn’t so much mention multi-tasking as problem-solving and spacial-cognition. To be sure these skills serve a different purpose than remembering and quoting Chaucer or listening to Mozart but in a multicultural society I’m of the mind to say it’s dangerous to make high minded decisions about high versus low Art. Doing so begs the question who decides what is great and what is trash and through what authority?