A typical story told by parents is that staring at the TV too long can ruin your eyes or watching SpongeBob or any other cartoons make you dumber to steer their children from consuming hours of TV. People invest more time looking at screens from watching the series finale of their favorite show to surfing the web; from the time you wake up to the time you lay your head to sleep, there were hours of screen time in between.
Since television became a modern commodity, it has enhanced a part of everyday life. Television programming receives the reputation of corrupting the minds of its viewers and catering to the instant-gratification culture referring to the constant real-life images of violence, sex, and drug use.
Television shows have evolved over the past seven decades. Linear plotlines of shows like I Love Lucy transitioned to more compelling and intense show of Grey’s Anatomy, A medical-based drama. Children’s television is no exception shows like Steven Universe have multiple characters and subplots within its storyline.
Despite television shows have become diverse in storytelling, character development, and a range of genres to choose from, TV nevertheless carries a negative connotation that “TV rots the brain.”
The same can be said about the rise of gaming consoles and video gaming. Gaming systems rapidly advanced since its gained popularity from the late 70s. People loathe video games for their time-wasting in front of a screen ability. Video games achieved its permanent mark in modern popular culture, video game development spanned over four decades created the classic Space Invaders, One of the earliest games.
Now games like Portal have puzzling levels that require critical thinking. TV and video games have taken credit for cognitively shaping a culture, whether the effects produce positive outputs are debatable, there’s no proof that it definitively does. Not all opinions align with the preconceived notion that TV and video games are bad for you.
“Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Pop Culture is Making Us Smarter” authored by media theorist Steven Johnson suggest in his book that watching TV and playing video games can be good for people. Johnson believes that people who engage in video games and watch TV receive a mental exercise from the mass entertainment that has become more demanding and advanced.
The media complexities of television and video games offer cognitive rewards that should be embraced and valued for the belief in the benefit of increasing people’s intelligence, instead of dumbing down the masses to the point of only being entertained by the sheer pleasures from watching shows and playing games.
Johnson wants to convince people to stray away from the preconceptions of TV, and video games are the workings of mass culture. Believing that society is, “steadily declining path toward lowest-common-dominator standards” (Johnson 9).
Johnson establishes the point that the content within pop culture is the least attractive part, but the mental work in trying to keep up with a complicated show plotline or video games structure. Pop culture forces people to exercise the ability to focus on multiple pieces of information given to from whichever medium and making information connect in a meaningful way, encouraging higher-thinking skills.
His argument does go against the favored argument that society is going to the downward spiral because of declining standards of popular culture and give insight to the other side of the feud, Johnson’s claim is not based on scientific research and can be refuted because of his unclear connection between consuming television and intelligence. His claim also would’ve been more plausible if he used credible sources of compelling evidence that supported his argument. Still, there hasn’t been much research done on the cognitive benefits of watching tv or playing video games.
One the most vital pieces of evidence used comes from Johnson’s theory of the Sleeper Curve; Johnson never formally defines the concept of the sleeper curve, but the theory measures entertainment and media grows more complex and involved over time.
A sleeper curve has three common forces: “economic factors, neurological factors, and technological factors” (Johnson 10). Economic factors featured in the sleeper curve include the changes that have been affected in the industry to accommodate the needs of the viewer while and satisfying the financial needs of the show business industry.
Encouraging the tactic of broadcasting because it, “seeks the largest possible audience by trying to appeal to everyone.” Rather than use data to defend the theory, anecdotal observations from childhood where used, “…the kind of thinking that I was doing on my bedroom floor became an everyday component of mass entertainment…my solitary obsession with modeling complex simulations is now ordinary behavior” (Johnson 9).
Gaming examples don’t provide creditable results to prove the legitimacy of the Sleeper Curve. In addition, the standards used to measure the cognitive benefits of reading. Memory, attention, and other mental functionalities are being challenged through the non-linear approach from TV.
It is true that “programming on TV has steadily increased the demands it places on precisely these mental faculties” (Johnson 64). Video games apply this method as well, “novels may activate our imagination…but games force you to decide…to prioritize” (Johnson 41). The claim that no other medium engages with the brain in this way has provided no research that provides facts that correlate with his statement compared to the studies that show the advantage of reading.
The Flynn Effect of IQ is an increase in worldwide IQ test scores over a time period. “The link between the Flynn Effect and popular media is a hypothesis, but there a number of reasons to think that a more casual connection exists” (Johnson 147).
First, the IQ test has been proven to have an inherent bias. Johnson didn’t provide any study or numerical data to his claim that television complexity explains the rising IQ scores. A recent study shows that “The causes in IQ increases over time and now the decline is due to environmental factors ”(Smith). The lack of science to show the impact media has on cognitive development.
Regarding the word “smarter” isn’t explicitly stated in what way pop culture makes people smarter. Intelligence and cognition are not the same things, despite the words being used interchangeably in the book. Intelligence is both the absorption of knowledge as well as the ability to apply the knowledge.
Cognition is the ability to process knowledge. Being able to learn video games like, “learning about the effects of industrial taxes while playing SimCity” (Johnson 136) may show the cognitive ability to grasp concepts. One can’t measure intelligence using a video game. Viewing more complicated television makes you better at watching shows; the more you play video games, the better you’ll be at video games.