Wednesday, October 24, 2007

what's bad for you?

we started a book club of sorts. picking a book and then discussing it here through comments and posts. this is the first one; "everything bad is good for you" by steven johnson. basically, he makes the point that pop culture is not dumbing us down, in some ways it is making people smarter. i found it ironic that johnson quotes a 2004 study from the national endowment for the arts; "...reading for pleasure had declined steadily among all major american demographic groups. the writer andrew solomon analyzed the consequences of this shift: 'people who read for pleasure are many times more likely than those who don't to visit museums and attend musical performances, almost three times as likely to perform volunteer and charity work and almost twice as likely to attend sporting events. readers, in other words are active while non readers- more than half the population- have settled into apathy." might be true but reminds me of the warnings and fears about magazines displacing and destroying newspaper and radio displacing magazines and books and television sounding the death knell of radio and the internet hastening the demise of all other media. it looks more like time spent with the internet and games etc changes things but ends nothing. still only so much time in a day; either fit more in or let something go. seems to be mostly fit more in. thus the multitasking.
but there is some reason why people often say the book was better than the movie. because they helped co author the book. hard to co author a movie when someone tells you what the character looks and sounds like. but maybe there is an element of co authoring games or is it all about the reward system of getting to the next level and sending dopamine through the circuitry of the brain? and are we co authoring at all when we get into games and have to figure out how it works as we go?

at any rate, is there a mass culture or a herd culture or both? does it make any difference when you are trying to develop and media neutral plan and strategy?
more to come(?)


curiosity said...


I just finished reading Part one... Steven Johnson raises some very compelling arguments and has great reasoning as far as I am concerned. And, to fully support your "people should read" argument...

"Readers, in other words, are active, while non readers-more than half the population-have settled into apathy". Andrew Solomon (page 18)

One of the most, if not the most, compelling topic I read in this book was his stance on video games and gamers. Beginning on page 26ish, he dives into the frustrating aspects of playing video games. The ways in which people will willingly purchase and play a game that will challenge them mentally, or trap them into performing mediocre tasks just to progress. I can relate to this, in a shocking degree, to the ways in which he talks about playing the Zelda game. I know that every new game that is released will have the same basic principals, I know for a fact that I will have to earn the good shield the good sword, and find the magical (insert and object) in order to get into the new castle to find the new item to beat the increasingly difficult boss. Repeat, repeat, repeat, game over. I have also bought and beaten every Zelda game ever made, even the most childish and fantasy based versions. And, I am normally someone who hates overtly fantastical movies and TV shows. Although I love the superhero mold... I am not a fan of Harry Potter, Star Wars, movies like Eragon... but Zelda is probably more ridiculous than many of those platforms put together.

The great part in this wasn't my realization that I used a lot of time and money on Zelda, but the concept of probing. I loved it. Attributing video games to a new sense of thinking on your feet, reacting, anticipating, and overall using the same strategic instincts in completely different styles. But.. In considering death again. I couldn't help but wonder what type of society we would all live in if things we approached in the same manner of playing a video game. If you don't willingly herd the cattle, then I won't get the key, then I can't save the princess. Whereas, if I don't do the homework, then I won't know the answers to the test, then I won't pass the course. So on and so forth.

So, in thinking that no one considers their own death... I think that everyone considers their own death if it's in terms of a video game and their character. The reason for this is that although the levels require probing in which the learning process occurs through experience and repetition, there is almost always a clear understanding of what will kill your character. But, there's a reset button. There is no uncertainty. I am more free to experiment with my character because he is ultimately incarnated exactly where I want him to be. However, I am also free to play within the confines of the game, trying not to die, and in fact, trying my best to win the game the way it was intended. I find this to be more common than anything in myself and most of my peers. I have never purchased a game in the immediate effort to check things out entirely by screwing with other characters, or disobeying my 'mission' within the game. That is something reserved for moments of complete boredom, or frustration. Now that I have been considering it, the uncertainty of my real life actions is more often than not the reason why I either don't take action, or keep it out of my mind. I can't exactly explain this. But, taking this (thinking about books and emailing you) for a perfect example, I am not being graded, there is no ramifications that came come from this e-mail. But, whereas in Zelda I know that the cows = a key. Here, and in many things... this email = ??? Quite simply, and reasonably, it will equal a response. But in a lifetime full of video games, I almost feel like this email should equal the equivalent of a "key". Which is something in which I wonder is what has helped reinforce in me (and others like me) a sense of entitlement?

Moving briefly to everything he said about TV, and in keeping with the concept of intellectually probing; on page 108: "This is the magic of the brain's plasticity: by executing a certain cognitive function again and again, you recruit more neurons to participate in the task. Social intelligence works the same way: spend more hours studying the intricacies of a social network, and your brain will grow more adept at tracking all those intersecting relationships."

This makes me wonder about what functions will be occurring again and again, especially in consideration of modern day television? So, with thinking that television programs have a high influence on our minds and social makeups, I wonder about current reality TV. Shows like I Love New York, Flavor of Love, The Bachelor, Real World... I think that if there is one thing that is programmed in me, and others, is the idea of stereotyping and an overwhelming flare for the dramatic. Chuck Klosterman talks about this in "sex, drugs, and coca puffs" too. That he will literally walk into a room of random people and begin associating them to characters from the Real World. Attributing those individuals into being the gay guy, the slut, the prima donna, the unsocial redneck.... But he mentioned this argument pre 2002. Now, I feel like the reality dating world is taking this concept an running with it, in such a way that the most dramatic and over-the-top people are finalist, if not winners. So, as far as a looking glass goes; will this mean more cases of ADHA, bipolarism, chauvinism in the next generation? In my generation? Because much of what I am doing in watching TV is training myself to pick out the subtle character traits in those people and then deconstructing the next cast to fit similar roles. This just really makes me curious about the future of relationships and social interaction. And, as Steven Johnson states multiple times... people are able to assimilate multiple threads at a time (examples are in shows like the Sopranos and Lost) and will ultimately exhibit that knowledge.

Finally, and going off of that last sentence, on page 136, he talks about new sports games where the gamer has control of the players, the team, the recruits, the organization. And then he goes on to say how a child will understand that benching your prima donna third baseman or cutting his pay will result in a drop in his performance on the field. Now, In the real world, this would most likely be true as well. So, my finally big query is how this new level of gaming will effect us. How it, I think, is taking human nature and emotions out of the mental process, and is systematizing the process. I have to wonder if a child who grew up playing MLB 0whatever' would have reacted to the world series when the Dodgers played the Oakland A's. In video game land, you don't play Kurt Gibson, he's injured, the game might not even give him to you as an option. But, in real life.. homerun....

anyways,... Imma finish part II tomorrow.

Best wishes,

Kelsey said...

I have not read Ian's comments yet because I am only on page 50 or so. At this point I feel like I could already put the book down and understand his reasoning behind video games making us smarter - or, in otherwords, they make us use our brains differently to problem solve than we have in the past. I don't know how much more of video games I can read...but I will try! It is very interesting so far - I just hope he expands into more than the benefits of rewards and new ways to problem solve from playing videogames.

igaff said...

Ok, so part II. I did not enjoy part II as much as part I. But! Some great commentary on the future of American potential for education. In his consideration of IQ scores I couldn't help but think about my own SAT experience, namely how much I despised them. I thought of the SATs as being a way to gage a students ability to comprehend literature and do math. My hatred for the tests led me to getting into an argument during my PSATs because there wasn't enough real world problem solving material, and then to purposefully not using a calculator during the real thing. I figured if it was math I couldn't do in my head then I wouldn't need to do it and therefore I would be giving myself a more accurate evaluation of my ability (according to the SAT). Anyways, I think they are outdated and demand revision considering all of Johnson's arguments about intellectual probing. The "learn as you go" theory does not align with modern education.

On page 175, he says "technology amplifies the sleeper curve in one final respect: it introduces new platforms and genres at an accelerating rate." I loved this concept. Video games today are a hybrid of cinematic storylines and the role player adventure (zelda, mario). The depth of the story, and the player's personal interaction with the game gives way to an advanced level of critical thought within the fantasized medium. The accelerated intelligence in younger people comes from challenging themselves on such platforms at an increasingly younger age. I played my first zelda game when I was 10, my cousin beat his first game on the nintendo gameboy system when he was 5. Johnson says it better on page 178; "But as the new technologies started to roll out in shorter and shorter cycles, we grew more comfortable with the process of probing a new form of media, learning its idiosyncrasies and its distortions, its symbolic architcture and its rules of engagement. THE MIND ADAPTS TO ADAPTATION."

Basically, now I am more intrigued about the human ability to assimilate knowledge in fragments, moving from topic to topic, but still gaining a full conceptual idea of each topic as a whole in comparison to that of my parents. But, then in opposition of that point; is it harder for me to say, for example, sit through a 2 hour lecture that has a central topic and does not stray from that theme? Plus, I think it would have made school much more interesting if math was sprinkled into journalism; or poetry was intertwined with the periodic table.

all and all, this was a good book and I enjoyed thinking that my thinking differently is/was not a bad thing. This type of book makes me optimistic for the future of education.

curiosity said...

in response to ian; perhaps the good thing about a university is the ability to study many different things at a time. follow interests. maybe not enough people do that when they get out of the university and start working. maybe it is possible to think in lateral terms despite the conditioning we suffer through in much of our educations. one human voice at a time. and maybe technology can help.