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Everything Bad is Good for You

(Culture Smart!)

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3.49  ·  Rating details ·  4,656 ratings  ·  523 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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Average rating 3.49  · 
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Michael
Mar 30, 2008 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
...more
Arlynda
Dec 10, 2007 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
Greg
Sep 07, 2010 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
...more
trivialchemy
Jun 07, 2007 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
...more
Ryan
Jun 03, 2007 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
...more
Kai Schreiber
Feb 03, 2013 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
...more
Lexxi Kitty
Mar 06, 2020 rated it did not like it
I do not specifically recall why I felt this way, but I've a vague recollection that this book was both stupid, tedious, and annoying to get through.
Michael
Dec 13, 2008 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
Daniel Solera
Jul 23, 2009 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
...more
Clif
Aug 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: current-affairs
This little book might be considered a tiny landmark, no let's call it a bookmark in the history of Western man.

Time was just about everything that brought pleasure in this world was said to be bad by authority (the church). Even such harmless things as dancing or getting a little rowdy with too much wine could bring on guilt. One dared not speak of sex! Going to confession to escape guilt was a very common activity in the hope of forgiveness. Agreement was general that only the next world was a
...more
Jay Green
May 20, 2016 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
Ed Wagemann
May 15, 2011 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
Richard
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 Popu
...more
Elise
Jul 28, 2007 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
...more
Kaethe Douglas
Oct 07, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
"bogus"

(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 video
...more
Amanda
Jun 21, 2010 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
...more
Lyn
May 30, 2008 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Christy Stewart
Part 1: No shit Sherlock.
Part 2: Moderately interesting, but too much rambling.
Mehrsa
Jun 19, 2009 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
Rich
May 26, 2014 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
...more
Shane Moore
Oct 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Before I read this book, I believed modern entertainment was progressively getting dumber, catering more and more to the lowest common denominator. Now, I have been convinced otherwise. Even the worst dreck of modern TV is in many ways more complex and intellectually demanding than comparable programs from earlier times.

Does this mean books will soon go extinct, to be replaced by superior modern media?

Mr. Johnson writes, "No cultural form in history has rivaled the novel���s capacity to re-creat
...more
Andrew Miller
Oct 08, 2013 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
...more
Samuel
Jun 01, 2015 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
Lucas Johnston
Aug 26, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is split into two parts with two distinct but related theses:

1. Pop culture is getting more complex
2. IQ has been trending upwards because of this

He defends (1) by comparing television, film and video games to their mid-20th century counterparts. Depending on what particular time slice he chooses there is a question of whether these things are truly popular or mass culture; television and film are more likely to be mass culture regardless of time whereas video games mostly picked up at
...more
Ghoti
Jan 15, 2016 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
...more
Elly
Jun 09, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
Somewhere between 2 and 3 stars. Obviously at this point, this book is quite outdated (part of the issue with my promise to read books on the first couple of pages of my "to read" list...). The central premise is that media has become more complex (be it the thought process necessary to beat a video game or character/plot depth knowledge necessary to "get" a show) and as a result, our cognitive processes are improving and we are becoming smarter. The problem is there is not much causal research ...more
Km Brady
Jan 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was an excellent book.

After thoroughly enjoying the first half of the book, I peeked at some reviews and found a significant amount of criticism regarding Johnson's assertions and research. I paused briefly to consider these. And I am sure one can be critical of his relatively "large" assertions based on simply contrarian ways of countering our gut reactions to nearly everything "modern."

But here's the thing: we NEED to consider that more is going on than our first instincts about everyth
...more
Lyle Hardin
Apr 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Do you think TV and video games are dumbing us down? Think again.
This book explains how many modern TV shows and video game actually make us think rather than veg out.
An interesting and quick read.
Kent Winward
Aug 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
A little dated, but the underlying message remains -- technology is a tool, nothing more, nothing less. It can be good or bad, thus everything bad can be good for you and everything good can end up bad. Life is the balance and walking the line between the contraries.
John Defrog
Dec 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting thought piece suggesting that video games, TV and other frequently demonized “junk media” is actually more beneficial than you might think. For example, video games force you to learn rules as you go (compared to, say, chess where you know all the rules in advance), while TV shows today are far more complicated than 30 years ago because they force you to follow multiple threads, a dozen characters and an ongoing story arc.
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Steven Johnson is the bestselling author of twelve books, including Enemy of All Mankind, Farsighted, Wonderland, How We Got to Now, Where Good Ideas Come From, The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, and Everything Bad Is Good for You.
He's the host of the podcast American Innovations, and the host and co-creator of the PBS and BBC series How We Got to Now. Johnson lives in Marin County, California,
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