Profile: Non-fiction, Sociology, Neuroscience
I added Everything Bad to my reading list shortly after finishing Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. I was looking for a counterpoint to Postman’s arguments and the internet was fairly aggressive in promoting the dichotomy between the two books. In practice, that comparison doesn’t really hold up, in spite of Johnson’s insistence that it does. But where Postman has centuries of history and sociological evidence to back up his ideas, Jonson has a handful of examples from the top half of the 2000s, and a mountain of conjecture.
Steven Johnson’s core concept is the ‘Sleeper Curve,’ a theory which posits that there are significant cognitive benefits to our increasingly complex popular culture. Johnson never formally defines the Sleeper Curve anywhere in the book, but the general shape of the theory is fairly obvious. Everything Bad primarily wants to prove that we are getting smarter because our media is getting more complex and deeper. The book is split into three sections: first, contrasting historical television programing and computer gaming with the present entertainment markets; second, providing scientific evidence that we are getting smarter; and finally, a shorter section addressing the content versus raw complexity issue.