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Everything Bad is Good for You

3.49  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,891 Ratings  ·  464 Reviews
Forget everything you’ve ever read about the age of dumbed-down, instant-gratification culture. In this provocative, unfailingly intelligent, thoroughly researched, and surprisingly convincing big idea book, Steven Johnson draws from fields as diverse as neuroscience, economics, and media theory to argue that the pop culture we soak in every day—from Lord of the Rings to G ...more
Paperback, 254 pages
Published May 2nd 2006 by Riverhead Books (first published 2005)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jul 15, 2010 Michael rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy, 2000s
Despite the critical readers on here giving this book one star for not, you know, being RELIABLE, I'm going with four. I'm rating it based on what I usually rate books on: entertainment value.

That said, the logic here is severely shitty. Thesis: modern films, television, and other technologies are more complex than they used to be. People nowadays have slightly higher IQs on average than they used to have. Therefore, modern media is making people smarter.

This is flawed in too many ways to name
Dec 10, 2007 Arlynda rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one.
Shelves: book-club
This book is so poorly written that I don't know where to begin. By the end of the introduction, Steven Johnson has already told us that he doesn't care about morals, and apparently neither should we. Well, I do. Knowledge with out serious thought about the implications of misuse of such knowledge is worse than ignorance. I think that nuclear technology is amazing, but I don't think that we should make bombs out of it and use them. Morals helps us to decide how to use technology. I think that a ...more
Jun 14, 2007 trivialchemy rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: those who will believe anything they want to be true
This book makes the following its central thesis:
Because popular media (TV, video games, movies, etc.) are becoming more complex, and requiring more cognitive work to process them, they are making us smarter. This is the so-called "sleeper curve."

The logic of this argument is identical to the claim, "market heroin is steadily growing in purity, therefore heroin is good for us." HOW DOES ANYONE BELIEVE THIS RUBBISH? It wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that its target audience consists o
Gregory Heldt
Sep 16, 2010 Gregory Heldt rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: anyone pining to validate those lost years watching television.
Correlation and causation; there's a difference, and the author doesn't understand it.

A sensational thesis opens the discussion: those once-dismissed hours spent playing video games watching reality TV are actually making you smarter!

Sounds too good to be true, right? That depends if you buy the author's argument: the average IQ has continued to rise over the past 30 years due to more intellectually demanding media, i.e., more complex video games, film, and television. Sadly, the author's case
Kai Schreiber
Feb 05, 2013 Kai Schreiber rated it it was amazing
A refreshing thesis and a convincingly told story, paired with a healthy dose of cultural and psychological optimism.

This would ordinarily have gotten four stars from me, but I give it five to cancel the silly deluge of very bad reviews based on sciencey catchphrasing and moral bias.

Yes, "correlation is not causation", thanks for the cliché, but Johnson doesn't really claim to have good evidence. In fact, he says quite clearly that he could have made the argument, as his evil twins on the other
Dec 16, 2008 Michael rated it really liked it
In Everything Bad is Good for You, Johnson attempts to de-bunk the popular narrative that the culture industry is making us stupider, by feeding us more and more banal television shows, video games, and movies. He argues for understanding a Sleeper Curve in popular culture that is actually making texts more complicated over time. That is, many video games, television shows, Internet sites, and movies are making us smarter by challenging out mental faculties: we have to make more mental and socia ...more
Jay Green
May 20, 2016 Jay Green rated it it was amazing
Much of what I love about this book is its polemicising effect on readers that helps me to distinguish the culture snobs from the rest of us - particularly helpful because culture snobs tend to be snobs not just culturally but also socially. There isn't much new in Johnson's work that can't be found in Flynn's examination of the rise in IQ and various structuralist literary and cultural analyses, but it's nice to see the argument being made outside of sociology and cultural studies that the dist ...more
Dec 10, 2014 Amanda rated it liked it
This book would have been 4 stars as it is really interesting and puts science behind theories that I've held for a while (i.e. that video games are good for your brain), but gets downgraded to 3 stars for poor editing, being repetitive, not having enough science, and for being dated. Those last two aren't really the book's fault though, I don't think at the time, they were looking into the sorts of claims that the author makes.

My favorite passage is one where he describes a theoretical land whe
Sept 2010 update below.

Excellent book. Not a convincing argument, but a very refreshing and provocative contrarian perspective.

Johnson provides evidence that much of our mass entertainment, even the stuff we often shudder at, is gradually pushing the IQs of its consumers steadily up. He focuses our attention on aspects of television -- including reality TV!, video games, and much else in this effort.

Two things are crucial to note, though.

First, Johnson’s title and subtitle (”How Today’s Popula
Jul 29, 2007 Elise rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Mom, Dad, gamers and couch potatoes
What's nice about Steven Johnson's Everything Bad Is Good For You is that you can finish it in several short sittings. Three cheers for that. The book is quick and succinct, an easy but thoughtful and though-provoking read.

Johnson argues that over the last three decades, popular culture has become more complex, sophisticated and challenging, in spite of everybody's eagerness to dub it "lowbrow fluff." That is, for all the crap they get, programs on "the idiot box" and "those damn video games" ar
Jun 04, 2007 Ryan rated it did not like it
i wanted to throw this book against a wall, many, many times while reading it.

my main problem with the book is the lack of data to support the hypothesis that johnson argues. if it were simply a polemic arguing that media has become more complex, and that complexity warrants closer inspection and not dismissal, i'd forgive it.

however, johnson begins the book by admitting that he isn't a scientist and then goes on to try to support his claims with scientific data. i'm not a scientist either, but
Daniel Solera
Jul 23, 2009 Daniel Solera rated it it was ok
Shelves: pop-culture
Ironically, this was a difficult read. Not because the theme is hard to digest, or because Johnson's diction is criminally elevated (neither of those are true), but because I couldn't really decide whether I believed him.

The crux of Johnson's argument relies on the increasing complexity with which our popular culture is deliberately built, a complexity which forces its audience to multi-task, follow and understand multiple narrative threads, all the while developing advanced cognitive abilities
Ed Wagemann
May 15, 2011 Ed Wagemann rated it did not like it
If everything bad is actually good for you, like the title of Steve Johnson’s study of pop culture suggests, then his book must be the best thing since penicillin. In attempting to make the argument that pop culture is actually making mankind smarter, Johnson is guilty of huge lapses in logic which stems from a very limited view of reality that pretty much totally misses the point on almost every level. Even the one tool of pop culture that actually is improving mankind, that being the internet ...more
Oct 07, 2010 Kaethe rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned

(you can hear the Bill & Ted in my voice, right?)

Johnson's idea is that the entertainment that everyone else says is bad for you really isn't, it's really good for you. Because IQs are steadily rising over time. It must be crappy TV and video games.

Yeah, that's pretty much the quality of the logic. me, I'm inclined to believe that the entertainment some says is bad for you isn't any worse for you than anything else, and neither highbrow art (Mozart for brilliant babies?) nor lowbrow v
Atila Iamarino
May 28, 2016 Atila Iamarino rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Um livro que realmente gostei. Uma boa defesa de como a cultura em geral (séries, jogos, filmes, quadrinhos, etc) está ficando mais complexa. E como ainda nos prendemos em achar que qualquer atividade de lazer que não for a leitura fará mal para as crianças. O autor ainda toma o cuidado de deixar claro que nem tudo contribui para a cognição e cobre o outro lado, atividades que vão pelo menor denominador comum e mediocridade. Excelente para quem frequenta novas mídias e consome entretenimento (to ...more
Christy Stewart
Part 1: No shit Sherlock.
Part 2: Moderately interesting, but too much rambling.
Mar 27, 2016 Rich rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
""When gamers enact with [game] environments, they are learning the basic procedure of the scientific method." -45

"[Y]ou get to a point where there's a sequence of tasks you know you have to complete to proceed further into the world, but the tasks themselves are more like chores than entertainment . . .". -28

"For parents, if your selection principle is built around cognitive challenge, and not content, then you needn't limit your children's media intake to dutiful nightly exposure to Jim Lehrer
I give up. I was interested in reading this book because I love pop culture. I was expecting something lively, fun, and interesting, and what I got was a book that's boring, repetitive, and based entirely on conjecture.

Johnson's thesis is that since games and TV shows have become more complicated over the years, they require more of the audience's attention and thus make them smarter. That's the entire book. (I skipped ahead a little bit.)

I knew he'd lost me in the forward when he went on and on
Andrew Miller
Oct 08, 2013 Andrew Miller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book has a simple and counterintuitive message: playing video games makes you smarter.

Of course I'm going to like a book like this! If only I can somehow convince my wife that the hundreds of hours "wasted" on video games is actually time spent making me a better person. Johnson's book argues that video games instill within players the skills required to think critically and analyze complex relationships. For example, SimCity teaches players the delicate balance of taxes, industry, and gover
Jan 15, 2016 Ghoti added it
This book was preaching to the converted and it still managed to annoy me with its inaccuracies.

However, one thing I did get from it was a potential reason why I like tabletop games but mostly don't get on well with computer games. It describes the joy of computer games as largely being rules you have to figure out, and what I love about tabletop games is that there are clearly defined rules to work within. That matches my experience of frustration and boredom, so I'm going to ponder that some
Jun 01, 2015 Samuel rated it really liked it
Upon beginning reading this book, I just picked it up and started reading, it had a cool lookin' cover so I decided why not? After getting through the prologue and all of the other opening "junk", I found myself oddly compelled to learn more because my views were not only being challenged, but proved wrong, and in just a few (rather long but still few) sentences! So I naturally wanted to read more to find out why I could hold to my opinion, but not because I was interested in the book, no, the p ...more
Jul 27, 2008 Lyn rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Renato O.
Jan 18, 2016 Renato O. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Na sociedade em que atualmente estamos inseridos existem muitos juízos de valor relativamente ao seu entretenimento e cultura popular - na maior parte das vezes atribuindo valores negativos e perpetuando a ideia que videojogos, televisão, cinema e mentalidades em geral estão cada vez piores. Steven Johnson refuta esta ideia e demonstra (muito bem) como estas ideias não só não são fundamentadas, mas também erradas.

Nesta obra Steven Johnson demonstra como jogos são mais do que meras fontes de ent
Feb 03, 2016 Salsabrarian rated it really liked it
The author puts forth a compelling argument that todayâs âœprogressive trends in popular cultureâ are making us more intelligent rather than less. He cites the more complex storylines of todayâs television which kicked off with âœHill Street Blues.â Video games require decision-making, often quickly, and he describes the probing and telescoping techniques that players use to understand and advance in a game. Reality shows and social networking sites help us with our social intelligence. The rapi ...more
May 17, 2013 Larisa rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I rated this purely on how engaging I found it. After all, I basically grew up glued to games, television, and more games, so I was curious as to how this supposedly contributed to my current level of intelligence.

Long story short, boring book, half-assed arguments, and I don't think my personal choice in hobbies did me any favors in the long run, other than entertain me, which is what their intended purpose was anyway.

Pretty much the only thing I could relate to was this: "The dirty little sec
David Mason
Oct 08, 2010 David Mason rated it did not like it
The book that inspired me to join goodreads. This book inspired both hope and despair in me. Hope because it means the bar has been lowered for what gets published meaning it'll be that much easier to fulfill my dream of paying off student loans by writing a book. Despair because it was pure tripe and I'm concerned someone might actually take it seriously. I would say that he pulled most of this out of his a** except that he was so good at referencing actual research and then COMPLETELY MISSING ...more
Mohammad Abdelkhalek
Aug 29, 2014 Mohammad Abdelkhalek rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
the book we have here is divided into two parts, the first part is arguing that the popular media (Games, Tv, the internet, film) has developed so much complexity in the past few decades, a complexity that made us smarter by challenging our brains to process more data, the second part is telling us why the media has grown so complex in the first place.

But before we jump into quick judgments about the book, let's first try to understand what the book is actually trying to tell us, the book is try
Johnson discusses the background and implications of what he calls "The Sleeper Curve" or the positive cognitive impact popular media has on the mass culture. In a nutshell, he relates how today's video games, television, and movies, are created with the expectations that players/viewers will be active participants parsing out relevant details, organizing the social networks in their own minds, and taking advantage of syndication, TiVo, etc. to watch episodes over and over (calling for a complex ...more
Jul 01, 2009 Mehrsa rated it liked it
I think if the author would have stuck to his narrow thesis, this book could have been a tight and convincing argument, but he unjustifiably broadens it and weakens his argument. The narrow thesis, "the sleeper curve" argues that popular culture has gotten slowly smarter. TV shows give us less clues, demand more of our attention, and ask us to remember things from prior episodes, seasons, and even to incorporate popular events. Video games have become much more complex and demanding and engage t ...more
Jun 19, 2007 secondwomn rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2007
i knew someone who read this a while back, and her description of the book made it sound idiotic to me (although she was in love with it). last year i read and fell in love with johnson's book the ghost map, an engagingly narrated work about the soho cholera epidemic. i couldn't believe that the guy who wrote that book had also written this one. when i found it on remainder for $3 last week, i decided to give it a go.

i'll start by saying that this is a quick read and well-written. i find myself
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

Steven Johnson is the author of the bestsellers Where Good Ideas Come From, The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, Everything Bad Is Good For You, and Mind Wide Open, as well as Emergence and Interface Culture. He is the founder of a variety of influential websites—most recently,—and writes for Time, Wi
More about Steven Johnson...

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