9781573223072

Everything Bad Is Good for You : How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter

by
  • ISBN13:

    9781573223072

  • ISBN10:

    1573223077

  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2005-05-05
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
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List Price: $23.95

Summary

From the author of the New York Timesbestseller Mind Wide Opencomes a groundbreaking assessment of popular culture as it's never been considered before: through the lens of intelligence. The $10 billion video gaming industry is now the second-largest segment of the entertainment industry in the United States, outstripping film and far surpassing books. Reality television shows featuring silicone-stuffed CEO wannabes and bug-eating adrenaline junkies dominate the ratings. But prominent social and cultural critic Steven Johnson argues that our popular culture has never been smarter. Drawing from fields as diverse as neuroscience, economics, and literary theory, Johnson argues that the junk culture we're so eager to dismiss is in fact making us more intelligent. A video game will never be a book, Johnson acknowledges, nor should it aspire to be-and, in fact, video games, from Tetris to The Sims to Grand Theft Auto, have been shown to raise IQ scores and develop cognitive abilities that can't be learned from books. Likewise, successful television, when examined closely and taken seriously, reveals surprising narrative sophistication and intellectual demands. Startling, provocative, and endlessly engaging, Everything Bad Is Good for Youis a hopeful and spirited account of contemporary culture. Elegantly and convincingly, Johnson demonstrates that our culture is not declining but changing-in exciting and stimulating ways we'd do well to understand. You will never regard the glow of the video game or television screen the same way again.

Author Biography

Steven Johnson's three previous books are the New York Times bestseller Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life; Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software; and Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate. Cofounder of the online magazine FEED, Johnson currently writes the "Emerging Technology" column for Discover, is a contributing editor to Wired, writes regularly for Slate and The New York Times Magazine, and lectures widely.

Excerpts

Introduction The Sleeper Curve Every childhood has its talismans, the sacred objects that look innocuous enough to the outside world, but that trigger an onslaught of vivid memories when the grown child confronts them. For me, it's a sheaf of xeroxed numbers that my father brought home from his law firm when I was nine. These pages didn't seem, at first glance, like the sort of thing that would send a grade-schooler into rapture. From a distance you might have guessed that they were payroll reports, until you got close enough to notice that the names were familiar ones, even famous: Catfish Hunter, Pete Rose, Vida Blue. Baseball names, stranded in a sea of random numbers. Those pages my dad brought home were part of a game, though it was a game unlike any I had ever played. It was a baseball simulation called APBA, short for American Professional Baseball Association. APBA was a game of dice and data. A company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, had analyzed the preceding season's statistics and created a collection of cards, one for each player who had played more than a dozen games that year. The cards contained a cryptic grid of digits that captured numerically each player's aptitudes on the baseball diamond: the sluggers and the strikeout prone, the control artists and the speed demons. In the simplest sense, APBA was a way of playing baseball with cards, or at least pretending to be a baseball manager: you'd pick out a lineup, decide on your starting pitchers, choose when to bunt and when to steal. APBA sounds entertaining enough at that level of generality-what kid wouldn't want to manage a sports team?-but actually playing the game was a more complicated affair. On the simplest level, the game followed this basic sequence: you picked your players, decided on a strategy, rolled a few dice, and then consulted a "lookup chart" to figure out what happened-a strikeout, or a home run, a grounder to third. But it was never quite that simple with APBA. You could play against a human opponent, or manage both teams yourself, and the decisions made for the opposing team transformed the variables in subtle but crucial ways. At the beginning of each game-and anytime you made a substitution-you had to add up all the fielding ratings for each player in your lineup. Certain performance results would change if your team was unusually adept with the glove, while teams that were less talented defensively would generate more errors. There were completely different charts depending on the number of runners on base: if you had a man on third, you consulted the "Runner on Third" chart. Certain performance numbers came with different results, depending on the quality of the pitcher: if you were facing a "grade A" pitcher, according to the data on his card, you'd get a strikeout, while a "grade C" pitcher would generate a single to right field. And that was just scratching the surface of the game's complexity. Here's the full entry for "Pitching" on the main "Bases Empty" chart: The hitting numbers under which lines appear may be altered according to the grade of the pitcher against whom the team is batting. Always observe the grade of the pitcher and look for possible changes of those numbers which are underlined. "No Change" always refers back to the D, or left, column and always means a base hit. Against Grade D pitchers there is never any change-the left hand column only is used. When a pitcher is withdrawn from the game make a note of the grade of the pitcher who relieves him. If his grade is different, a different column must be referred to when the underlined numbers come up. Certain players may have the numbers 7, 8, and/or 11 in the second columns of their cards. When any of these numbers is found in the second column of a player card, it is not subject to normal grade changes. Always use the left (Grade D) column in these cases, no matter what the pitc

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