Everything Bad Is Good For You

Not known for its journalistic insight, Metro nevertheless resounds each morning with the sort of easily digestible trivia normally reserved for the likes of Heat, Now, Closer etc. This is an effective way to spend a 45 minute journey, one can almost get cover to cover in the time it takes my train to drag its sorry weight north to Norwich. This morning, however, something other than yet another picture of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes caught my eye … a 60 second interview with Steven Johnson, author of "Everything Bad Is Good For You".

60 seconds has always been a bit of an understatement, it’s clearly nothing like a 60 second interview. Whatever ends up in the printed copy is expanded upon online too. Which gives you, dear blog aficionado, the opportunity to
read what Steven had to say. It’s quite interesting. His basic premise is that the increased use of video games and the increase of complicated plotlines in TV drama is indicative and instrumental in the rise of IQ amongst Western populations. He cites the intellectual differences between Dallas and The Sopranos (to which I’d add 24 vs. The A-Team) and the video games of the 80s (PacMan) compared to those of today, (e.g. Halo). Clearly, today’s games and TV shows are more complicated and Johnson’s reasons (interwoven plotlines, multitasking etc. etc.) on the surface appear rather interesting. I do want to read the book myself before I comment further but I do have some concerns with his theory.

For example, the undeniable complexity of the Shakespearean dénouement was enjoyed by wide audiences in the sixteenth century (and even wider audiences since), there’s been substantial plotline complexity in popular novels for centuries but no-one’s made this link before … is Johnson suggesting that the birth of TV/video games first brought about an intellectual slump (70s & 80s) as people switched from reading to watching and playing? Presumably the last twenty years has seen this rise? I think Johnson could be focussing too much on his own generation and comparing it to today’s instead of looking for a pattern across a broader time frame. How can he be sure it’s TV and video games and not the wholesale improvement in Western educational standards? Sure, playing video games may improve systematic intelligence (as typified in the male brain) but are these at the expense of emotional intelligence (as typified in the female brain) Does this correlate with rise of autism – the consequence of the ‘extreme male brain’ [c.f.
Sacha Baron-Cohen]. Is the reverse true of watching TV or are we still storing up untold problems with a decline in social interaction? I shall order the book and make more informed judgement.

On to lighter things. Metro today also tells us of
Mark McGowan, an artist apparently, who intends to pour 15 million litres of water down the drain over the course of a year (by leaving a tap running) to raise the issue of water wastage. As the poisonous Mail reader might exclaim: “World’s gone mad I tell you.” However, never fear, it appears the local water company are trying to put a tap-ban on him. So, point made I presume Mark? For the record, Mark’s the Grade A idiot that pushed a monkey nut along the road in protest at student poverty and, a couple of months ago, told everyone he’d keyed cars for an art project only to retract that statement when challenged by Police.

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