In terms of morality, objectionable characters, and corrupting influences, the most innocuous of the three books discussed in this essay is Steven Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You (2005). Yet, the idea at its core, that playing video games and watching the "boob tube" is actually making us smarter, might seem more seedy to most parents. Smarter in the sense that playing video games requires that you use the scientific method to navigate a sequence of levels; smarter in the sense that Johnson compares the plots and narrative trajectories of several popular 70's shows, like The Love Boat, Starsky and Hutch, and Fantasy Island, to the plot lines of several current television shows like The Sopranos and landmark shows from the 80's like Hill Street Blues. What he finds is that despite the glaze-over look that seems to be embossed on the faces of gamers, there is actually some thinking going on in gamers' heads. Johnson explains that gaming actually requires a keen, dynamic mind that is willing to explore, investigate, and "read" physical cues embedded in a virtual realm; he makes it seem that playing video games are calisthenics for the mind.
According to the Library Journal review done on Everything, Johnson is a "Discovery magazine columnist" that has penned a "fascinating" book whose premise is simple: "contemporary culture is intellectually demanding, honing complex mental skills and encouraging well-reasoned decisions on the basis of available information" (Wood, 2005, pg.108). Library Journal</span> "Highly" recommends Johnson's book for "both public and academic libraries", but not until the reviewer (Suzanne Wood) has mentioned that Johnson draws on "research in neuroscience, literary theory, and economics" to make his arguments, substantiating Library Journal's zealous appraisal. The Journal might have us believe that Johnson's authored a tome of deliberate genius, but Walter Kirn of the N.Y. Times Book Review, sees gratuitous holes in many of Johnson's arguments.
Kirner commences by attacking Johnson's credentials as a scientist, implying that he really only has the credentials of a magazine correspondent, not a bona fide Doctor of Science. Kirner then downgrades Johnson's acumen to that of a junior research intern by writing that, "Johnson's argument isn't strictly scientific, relying on hypotheses and tests, but more observational and impressionistic" (Kirn, 2005, par. 3). Earlier in the review,though, Kirner calls Johnson's Everything an "elegant polemic" and calls Johnson himself a "cross-disciplinary thinker who has written about neuroscience, media studies and computer technology" (Kirner, 2005, par. 2). But the blow below the belt is when Kirner castigates Johnson by correcting him like a ruffled marm with the admonition that "Stimulation is not a virtue all by itself" It all reeks of feigned critical duress because in the end Kirn makes the whole thing about teaching an old dog, like Kirn, new tricks and Kirn states it plainly, "The old dogs won't be able to rest as easily, though, once they've read Everything Bad Is Good For You"
Tim Madigan's review of Everything in the Journal of Popular Culture is more evenhanded. Madigan understands that Johnson's book is not a textbook, but that it makes for riveting Reference reading. Madigan and Kirin both seem to question Johnson's research methods and particular inferences that Johnson makes, but it is Woods and Madigan that mention Johnson's current credentials (Wood credits his Discovery credentials while Madigan mentions the Wired quasi-column). Madigan has specific problems with Johnson's contention that "IQ scores have been increasing steadily over the past few decades, and that this could be correlated to changes in our 'mental diets'"(Madigan, 2006, par. 2), but he can still manage to suggest that Johnson's book could be put to great use in a Popular Culture Collection, "by drawing connections with the latest findings in cognitive development and brain research, Johnson has opened up a new venue for advocates of popular culture to explore" (Madigan, 2006).
Kirn, W. (May 22, 2005). 'Everything Bad is Good for You: The Couch Potato Path to a Higher IQ.. The New York Times Book Review, Retrieved February 28,2009, from http://tv.nytimes.com/2005/05/22/books/review/22KIRNL.html
Madigan, T. (2006). [Everything Bad Is Good For You]. Journal of Popular Culture, 39,no. 6, Retrieved February 28,2008, from http://libraries.cuny.edu/resource.htm/Wilson_Web
Wood, S. (April 15,2005). Johnson, Steven. Everything Bad Is Good For You: How Today's Popular Culture Is Acutally Making Us Smarter.. The New York Times Book Review, 130, no.7, Retrieved February 28,2009, from http://tv.nytimes.com/2005/05/22/books/review/22KIRNL.html
A Spanglish blog dedicated to the works, ruminations, and mongrel pyrotechnics of Yago S. Cura, an Argentine-American poet, translator, publisher & futbol cretin. Yago publishes Hinchas de Poesia, an online literary journal, & is the sole proprietor of Hinchas Press.