TV makes you smarter?

/ 24 April 2005

I’ve been waiting for some time for Steven Johnson’s new book to come out (ever since Joho commented on it), and today he has a significant article in the Sunday NYTimes that only further whets my interest. I really think he’s on to something — although obviously it’s only part of the puzzle — but it also reminds me of James Gee’s argument about videogames. Still, check out part of Johnson’s argument:

"Of course, the entertainment industry isn't increasing the cognitive complexity of its products for charitable reasons. The Sleeper Curve exists because there's money to be made by making culture smarter. The economics of television syndication and DVD sales mean that there's a tremendous financial pressure to make programs that can be watched multiple times, revealing new nuances and shadings on the third viewing. Meanwhile, the Web has created a forum for annotation and commentary that allows more complicated shows to prosper, thanks to the fan sites where each episode of shows like ''Lost'' or ''Alias'' is dissected with an intensity usually reserved for Talmud scholars. Finally, interactive games have trained a new generation of media consumers to probe complex environments and to think on their feet, and that gamer audience has now come to expect the same challenges from their television shows. In the end, the Sleeper Curve tells us something about the human mind. It may be drawn toward the sensational where content is concerned -- sex does sell, after all. But the mind also likes to be challenged; there's real pleasure to be found in solving puzzles, detecting patterns or unpacking a complex narrative system."