Saturday, April 23, 2005

Smart TV

Steven Johnson provides an interesting defense of the current state of television in this week's New York Times Magazine, with the provocative title "Watching TV Makes You Smarter." I've excerpted the conclusion, below, but upon further reflection, I suspect that this excerpt might not have been the best one for me to choose: it encapsulates the point of the article (which is part of a larger project from his upcoming book), but perhaps doesn't capture the fun tone and concrete examples of the article as a whole. But I'm feeling too lazy to choose a juicier quote, so you'll just have to read the article for yourself...

In pointing out some of the ways that popular culture has improved our minds, I am not arguing that parents should stop paying attention to the way their children amuse themselves. What I am arguing for is a change in the criteria we use to determine what really is cognitive junk food and what is genuinely nourishing. Instead of a show's violent or tawdry content, instead of wardrobe malfunctions or the F-word, the true test should be whether a given show engages or sedates the mind. Is it a single thread strung together with predictable punch lines every 30 seconds? Or does it map a complex social network? Is your on-screen character running around shooting everything in sight, or is she trying to solve problems and manage resources? If your kids want to watch reality TV, encourage them to watch ''Survivor'' over ''Fear Factor.'' If they want to watch a mystery show, encourage ''24'' over ''Law and Order.'' If they want to play a violent game, encourage Grand Theft Auto over Quake. Indeed, it might be just as helpful to have a rating system that used mental labor and not obscenity and violence as its classification scheme for the world of mass culture.


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